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Inspirational

Dandelions in the Bathtub

Dandelions are unappreciated.

They are loathed by gardeners, villainized by homeowners with pristine lawns, and ridiculed by chefs as not being good enough to be a contributor to the salad bowl.

Dandelions are loved by children.

They are picked by the fistful and stuffed into bowls of water in the kitchen so the ants can pour out onto the table. When picked past their vibrant yellow stage, dandelions are used to make the most important of wishes to a child. And many summer days have been spent weaving dandelions into glorious crowns to grace angelic heads.

Dandelions are everywhere, and they are nowhere.

My mother gardened the old-fashioned way, without chemicals. If it wanted to grow in our yard, it was allowed to.

Growing up in a farmhouse, our lawn was huge. Every Saturday during the summer my mother would put on her bikini top with her cutoff shorts, and push her mower around the lawn, taking hours to keep the grass and weeds down low enough for her children to run and play in it. There was no pattern or system, just whatever worked. My mother was also deathly afraid of snakes, which were abundant on a farm. So, keeping the grass in line was a good way to keep the slithering visitors at bay. 

But in the middle of the summer, there was a time when dandelions could grow a little taller and reach for the sun. It was dandelion harvest time.

A screwdriver was my mother’s garden tool of choice to harvest them. An entire Saturday would be spent popping the yellow weeds out of the ground, still clinging to their roots and dark green leaves. Us kids had to load them into our wagon and transport them up to the house. There Mom sat on the ground, separating the flowers with their stems from the rest. Once only the leaves were left, it was time to soak the dirt off them.

Old farmhouses had bathrooms as an afterthought. Never being part of the original house, bathrooms were inserted wherever space could be made. Ours was off the kid’s bedroom that we all shared. The toilet was next to the screened in window overlooking the raspberry patch at the back of the house, which made it pleasant to spend your time on a summer day watching the bees collect the nectar from the buds. The bathtub was an enormous cast iron tub, painted white, with huge claw feet, like a lion, holding it up. Several small children could take a bubble bath at the same time in it. But in the summer, it had a much more important purpose.

Dandelions must be soaked in water for a long time for all the dirt to fall off of them. And the huge bathtub was a perfect container to do the soaking. Mom would throw all the trimmed greens into the tub, filling it up with enough water for them to float in, then let them sit. The problem with this was no one was able to take a bath while the dandelions were in the bathtub. But for little children in the middle of summer, this was not a problem. When every waking hour was spent playing outside, the last thing we wanted was to have to stop playing and take a bath.

Mom would finally pull the greens out of the tub and place them in her biggest cooking pot. After adding a nice piece of salt pork to the pot, she let it simmer on the stove for what seemed like an eternity until dinner time. We usually ate dandelion greens with a spoonful of mayo plopped on top, and a whole lot of salt and pepper. It was a summer treat for us. Little did we know the greens had valuable vitamins and iron in them for growing bodies. It fueled us to spend hours running around outside through the fields around the house.

When I was a young Navy wife, I attended my first ball. As the salad plates were set in front of us, I remarked how the salad greens looked so much like the uncooked dandelions from my youth. I had never had a salad before with anything other than iceberg lettuce, and did not know the intricacies of radicchio, romaine and arugula.

The woman next to me laughed at me. She was an amateur chef and was aghast that anyone would eat dandelion greens. I was so embarrassed and immediately learned to keep quiet around other wives or suffer the humiliation. It was a lesson learned the hard way that a humble life lived on a farm was not understood in the big city. And that dandelions were not to be thought of other than something destroyed or thrown away.

Many years later we bought our “forever” home. It came with a beautiful, landscaped lawn devoid of weeds. I actually paid other people to keep dandelions from ever growing in my yard. I tried not to think of the chemicals going into the grass, or the pretty flowers that come from weeds. It seems silly to think of all the time wasted worrying about weeds.

I was blessed recently to spend time with my granddaughter at her home. We played in her front yard, while she made chalk drawings and taught me the rules of hopscotch on the sidewalk. She was carefree, enjoying her playtime outside, and I was loving the time spent with her. When it was time to go inside for dinner, my granddaughter presented me with a bouquet of dandelions she had picked form her yard.

“Aren’t they beautiful Mamaw?”, she asked. “They are pretty, but they are just weeds”, I replied. “No, they are flowers! Let’s take them inside and put them in water!” she said.

We placed them around the edge of a pretty china bowl with a blue pattern on it, filled it with water, and set it on the dining room table. She was so pleased with her flowers she didn’t even notice the tiny ants trying to escape their watery doom.

The next morning her weeds were dead, and she was very upset. So, every afternoon we would pick new dandelions to add to her china bowl on the table, her magnificent centerpiece for our dinner. It nourished my soul.

Someone recently told me they were not a rose, but a weed.

I began thinking about the misconception that weeds were somehow looked down upon by rose lovers. A rose may have more color or scent, but is still prickly with thorns, and temperamental to change. A rose won’t withstand everything thrown at it, from weather to insects walking on them. They quickly wither and die. They are not meant to last.

But a weed is resilient. It can stand up to almost everything you throw at it. A weed will get back up and yell “Is that all you got!!!???” A weed is strong. It digs in and takes root.

Dandelions are strong.

And are nourishment for the body and soul.

As I look out over my lawn, I can see the yellow heads standing tall over the grass, taunting me, just like they do every week before I muster the energy to pull the mower out of the garage. But I see them differently now, a new perspective. Maybe I’ll let them be a few more days.

August 06, 2021 23:22

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2 comments

Ryl J.
18:28 Aug 14, 2021

This story was so lovely! I really enjoyed how balanced the flow of the story was all the way from the past to the present moment when the narrator now has her own children and grandchildren. It's really beautiful. Like the other commenter, I would also suggest separating a line for each dialogues so it can be easier to distinguish who's speaking! Keep up the good work!!

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A. Neptune
09:50 Aug 14, 2021

I enjoyed this, especially the granddaughter bringing her a bouquet of dandelions. The only thing I can really point out is taking a line when a different character is speaking. Other than that very well done!

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