For a few years, in the late 1970s, plaid flannel shirts were all the rage in teenage fashion, at least where I lived, outside of Baltimore. I know I had more than a few of these beauties, but the one I remember most fondly was white and red and black and had snaps in place of buttons
I haven’t owned a shirt like that in thirty plus years, but my husband still has one or two that he pulls out of his closet on cool Fall days, although he is partial to chamois over flannel, and having touched (washed) both, I question why all clothes aren’t made of chamois. The softest material on earth.
And on those cool days, usually on a weekend, my husband might be found wearing his flannel or chamois shirt in our yard, cutting back the trees, pruning the rose bushes, unearthing some sapling that began as a blown seed and has grown far bigger than our tiny yard space allows.
If you know us at all, you would expect to see him out there; less likely would you expect to find me. I’m probably curled up by the fire, reading a book. Or, um, doing some important housework.
I grew up in a family that stayed inside during hay fever season, which often meant early Fall. I wasn’t particularly allergic and loved the outdoors, but I don’t have a single memory of one of my family members gardening or even mowing a lawn. Even when they couldn’t afford it, they found somebody else to do the landscaping because it wasn’t worth it to do it themselves; why should they risk days of burning eyes and constant sneezing so they could spend a morning pushing a piece of metal back and forth through the grass? This was long before Claritin or Zyrtec. Known allergy medicines put you to sleep, which wasn’t great consolation when the allergy season lasted for weeks or months at a time.
Imagine my shock that first time, many years ago, when my husband asked if I’d help him in the yard. If I could just bag up the clippings, cut (or saw) the tree limbs into small enough pieces to move them . . . that’s all he asked. So, being young and game and completely caught off guard by the request, I followed him around the yard, picking up, cutting up, stuffing into bags. It wasn’t hard work but it was very physical work and I learned that first year that the long sleeved flannel shirt had value beyond its “lovely” aspect. Thorns can rip through your skin if you aren’t careful and certain species of foliage can cause some people of a more delicate nature to break out in a rash that covers all exposed skin.
That was at least fifteen years ago. Every year around this time, we do what we did the year before: he trims, prunes, pulls and I cut, saw, bag. I’m not about to let a little rash and some blood stop me from doing the work. To this day, I go out there resistantly, but I always end up feeling great when the work is done. When I finish, I am sweat-covered with dirt-in-the-fingernails despite wearing gloves, and my eyes itch and burn and I can’t stop sneezing (I developed allergies later in life – damn genetics)
Sounds fun, huh?
The allergies are not fun, but I get why one would risk the discomfort for some time out in the yard. I learned something important about myself. I like outdoor physical work. I will risk allergic symptoms in order to get the job done. I would rather suffer lower back pain and sore muscles after the fact than not do it at all. And there is Advil, after all and hot showers and cold water to drink.
The discovery came not just from the picking up after my husband trimmed. That first year, I wanted him to pull out a Forsythia bush that was bright and cheery in the early spring but far too big and situated so that it blocked the walkway into our back yard (the woman who lived here before us loved gardening but landscaped her (our) yard as if it were five times larger than it was; we’ve had to pull out a lot as her small saplings grew into mighty big trees that have pushed our fences into our neighbors’ yards.) There was no way to pass through the gate and into the yard without being attacked by that Forsythia bush, even when it was trimmed back as far as could be done. By the time I made the suggestion, though, my husband had been working for hours and was ready to put down his implements and take a shower. Maybe next weekend, he’d said. Or something like that.
The next day, while he was off at work and I was taking care of the baby, I realized that I didn’t want to wait until next weekend. I wanted to pull that bush out myself. The baby took long naps (2 and ½ hours, twice a day–lucky with the first child, not so much with #2), so I took it upon myself to begin excavating after I put her down that morning. I had no idea what I had in store, but learned quickly that pulling out a mature bush was some pretty demanding physical work. You had to go down deep. Roots do not like to be dislodged from their comfy place in the ground
Hard work, yes, but I LOVED it. Time flew when I was hacking away at that bush with my shovel and clippers. I had to clean up and get the baby, and found myself counting down the minutes until she’d go down for another nap so I could get back out there and dig. And when I finally got the bush out, and had chopped it into pieces and tossed it in the truck to go to the dump, I felt the kind of deep joy I feel after a successful writing session, or a good workout, or a meaningful discussion with a friend. But even better was the way I could feel it in my muscles; how after the bush was gone, I still had the reminder in my body of the work that I had done. The pain was also the satisfaction.
One of the greatest things in my life has been the discovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t known existed before, especially those parts that seem so out of character based on the image I’ve developed subconsciously over the years. Brainy bookworm is only one way to describe me. Suburban lumberjack is another.
How about you? Have you discovered things you enjoy that you never would have expected and maybe never would have tried if somebody else hadn’t pushed you to do it?
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