White Trash Garden

Huntsville, Texas 1979

Huntsville, Texas 1980

The garden in the front yard angered the neighbors. But it was a while before I noticed their displeasure because it never occurred to me that it would bother anyone. The front yard garden grew like the wrath of God, and if it weren’t for THEM, I’d have probably entered my front yard in the “Garden of the Month” contest.

Instead, the domino playing dittos residing on Ditto Street wanted my garden chopped down. They thought a garden in the front-yard made Ditto Street look like Hicksville—nevermind the tire swings, trailers and trampolines in some of their front yards. Pardon my French, but they could be shower hanging douche bags.

Still, as a young, Southern woman, it was my duty to look beyond their pettiness…which, believe you me, was a pride-swallowing ordeal.

You’d think one of the neighborhood Dittos would stop and ask why the okra, tomatoes, string beans, watermelon and cantaloupes were growing in the front yard to begin with. Heaven forbid there might be a reasonable explanation. Instead of just asking me, the dittos did what dittos tend to do. They gossiped behind my back.

Ditto Ditty: “What kind of adolescent lunatic puts corn rows big as Jack’s beanstalk right in the front yard for anyone driving by to see?”

If anyone had bothered to ask me “The “lunatic,” I’d have uttered just one multi-syllabic but practical word.

Photosynthesis.

The conversion of light energy into chemical energy by living organisms requires carbon dioxide, water and sunlight.  Where was the sunlight? You guessed it. The one place the Texas piney woods hadn’t tangled into an unplowable mess was the north end of the front yard. There, the sunshine was generous of spirit, unlike my neighbors.

Standing in garden gloves, a t-shirt and cut-off jeans, I’d deliver self-deprecating-yet hyperbolic waves of appeasement as neighbors bounced by in their Lincoln Continentals. With car air-conditioners blasting like leaf blowers, the only thing inside the car not blowing was their super-hold-aerosol-cemented-hair. Had the flame from their Bic lighters blown too far to the right or left, their hair might have exploded. Still, they lit their Virginia Slims with reckless abandon while giving me dirty looks all at the same time. Passive agressiveness is a religion in the south.

Even for a young girl of twenty, the Dittos seemed ridiculously high maintenance.

I wasn’t about to root up my gloriously abundant vegetables just because they didn’t like where the garden grew. So, before they had time to form a neighborhood Ditto committee, I decided to kiss some broad-Crisco-lovin’ behinds.

Damage control first took the form of a sign that even the most optically challenged neighbors could read. It was written in bright yellow paint on white poster board, and it was an invitation.  “Community garden!! Help yourself!” Exclamation marks a-plenty.

Yawl come on down and do some pickin’, ya hear? Sugar plum, honey bee, muffin cake, butter bean, sweet pea…all you juicy tomatoes come on over.

Weeks passed. No takers. Not a one. My corn stalks got taller, their Lincoln Continentals drove by faster.

Thus began the sweat-soaked ritual of picking the vegetables for the Dittos and placing a medley of green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers and okra inside pretty bowls and leaving them on front porch steps. Surely my neighbors would nominate me for patron saint of White trash.

After a few days, confusion set in again. After a week, the fire ants called their friends and had a party inside my pretty bowls of vegetable reparations, which the Dittos collectively ignored.

And, so it went. Grudges grew as strong and sturdy as my green beans, which were held up to the sunlight by cut up panty hose tied to sticks.

While I was coming to terms with rejection, the young mother next door was coming to terms with something much more difficult—she got diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. The Dittos, much like the National Enquirer magazine, simply moved on to the next tragedy—never understanding the difference between real drama and the imagined kind.

Our sick neighbor and her early appointment with death now took center stage. When the sick neighbor’s husband made it clear she was about to croak and could only suck nourishment from a straw, my front yard garden gained bingo night status. The Dittos picked my garden bare, filling their Piggly Wiggly bags and bringing them to the husband to puree’ in a blender so his wife might cheat death a few more weeks. My White Trash Garden was no longer targeted for crucifixion. The Dittos forgot about why they were mad in the first place.

Years later, when I became a reporter, I was crazy over Sunshine laws which allow reporters and anyone else to keep powerful government officials from performing nefarious deeds behind closed doors. Secretly, I referred to Sunshine Laws as “Ditto-disinfectant.”

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