“These are elephant ears,” Nana said proudly. My little sister Karyssa giggled.
“Elephant ears?” I asked, incredulous. “Why?”
“Because they look like great, big elephant ears! They’re actually called hostas, but I like elephant ears better.” Nana proudly led Karyssa and me around the vast garden that wrapped around her house, balancing my baby brother Ethan on one hip and naming her plants. “And these are naked ladies.”
“Ew!” Karyssa and I said in unison.
“Why?” I asked again.
“Because they look like naked ladies, with the long stalk and the pretty pink flowers on top. Now, I don’t really like that name, so I call them pink ladies, but they are really called amaryllis.”
A-mary-less? Arma-list? Armadillo? I thought in frustration. I’ll just call them naked ladies.
Nana named plant after plant, telling us about the soft Japanese yews with tiny, red berries, the tall pine tree that always littered her garden with discarded pinecones, the little bird’s nest secluded in its branches, the two apple trees from which we picked apples in the fall, the slender purple and white petunias she’d cross pollinated to create lavender petunias. She renamed the yellow flowers that grew wherever they wanted weeds and asked us to rip those pretty flowers up, explaining that they reach up and choke the elephant ears and naked ladies, and they didn’t belong in her garden. I still thought they were pretty and gathered them into a bouquet, which I carried around in my runty hands as Nana continued the tour.
Nana’s favorite plant was actually a tree; a pear tree in the corner of her backyard near the swingset. She loved that tree. During the summer, we had pears with almost every meal. I hated pears. The texture was too gritty, and the taste too sour and not enough sweet. Even if had I liked pears, I wouldn’t have eaten them because then I’d have to eat pears all the time and that’s who I’d become. Just like what happened when I got my light up shoes when I turned five. I couldn’t go anywhere without someone calling me “Kayley The Light-Up Lady.” And now at seven, I didn’t want to be “Kayley The Pear Lady.”
“They are disgusting, Nana. I don’t want any.”
“But they are so yummy! Yum, yum, yum, yum,” Nana prodded, biting a chunk of pear. “So juicy, nom nom nom nom. They are good for you, too.”
“They’re nasty, Nana.”
“Kayley, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. When we eat our fruits and veggies, the Holy Spirit gets all happy.” She threw her hands in the air, waved them around, and sang hallelujah. “But when we eat too much sugar or fat, the Holy Spirit gets sad.” She put her fists up to her eyes and pretended to cry, wailing boo-hoo. “You are a growing girl. You need your fruits and veggies.”
I stared at her, unimpressed. It’s not like I wanted to eat only macaroni and cheese, and I didn’t understand why she had to bring God into it. God made macaroni and cheese, too. I just didn’t want pears because pears were gross. I glanced at Karyssa, who was just happy to have food and gladly shoved pear slice after pear slice into her mouth while kicking her feet up and down. When I looked at Nana again, she was holding a slice of pear up to my nose.
“No, I don’t want any pears,” I said again, crossing my arms and scrunching my face in defiance. Nana gave up and shook her head in disappointment. Every time we ate, she argued with me.
After lunch one day, Nana took us outside again and led us to the very back of her yard. She showed us a large bush covered in little, black clusters.
“This is a mulberry bush, but I call it a blackberry bush, because they kind of look the same,” Nana said. Then she sang, “Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush. Here we go round the mulberry bush, so early in the morning!”
Nana picked off a “blackberry” and handed it to me, then grabbed one for herself and ate it quickly.
“Would you like to try one, Kayley?”
I examined the “blackberry” carefully–brushed it off, sniffed it, licked it, wondered why it was black. Karyssa ate one without question, and so did little Ethan, who promptly asked for more by sticking out his chubby hands and grasping at the bush. I decided to try it.
The “blackberry” was surprisingly tart with a sweet aftertaste. The texture bothered me, a little waxy with tiny seeds, but I loved the taste. As much as I didn’t want to give Nana the satisfaction of having a new fruit with which she could replace pears at every meal, I plucked another “blackberry,” and hoped I wasn’t setting my tastes in stone.
Nana didn’t say anything, but she smiled softly. We spent every summer playing in the backyard, running to that “blackberry” bush whenever we got hungry, until Nana and Papaw moved to a new house. Years later, I asked Nana if she remembered the “blackberry” bush. She laughed and said, “Yes, I do! All you kids loved those blackberries. And they were great laxatives for you, too, since you guys ate so much cheese.”