By: Barbara Matousek
On my kitchen counter is a small, clear Rubbermaid container filled with black dirt, six earthworms, and a tiny yellow inch worm. Sam collected them this weekend as he “helped” me dig up the gravel that lined our driveway. I started this project in April. I anticipated replacing the gravel with fresh grass, planned to relocate the rocks overgrown with sandburs that stuck to our clothes and caused endless tantrums when they found Sam’s bare feet. But with a baby and a three-year-old, the opportunities to complete even a simple landscaping project are few and far between, and it got to be September before I finally said out loud to my neighbor, “The goal is to get this done before the snow falls.” When I said it out loud I suddenly became focused on getting it done, and despite a late bedtime the night before and being up twice to feed the baby and once to change Sam’s sheets, when the baby went down for her morning nap, Sam and I headed out to the driveway.
I was focused, but Sam was not.
I lifted and raked and squatted and dug, and Sam buzzed around me needing help with his bike helmet or help with his gardening gloves or help getting the hose untangled or help remembering to stay out of the bag of salt leaning against the side of the garage. To be fair it was a beautiful fall day, perfect for throwing the Frisbee or digging in the sandbox or collecting crickets in the bug boxes from Grandma, all the things we usually do on the weekends. And he is three. But after the fifth or sixth time I had to get up from my position on the ground and take off my gloves and help him with something, the worm in the dirt was a welcome sight. I eventually finished my rock project and Sam helped me toss new grass seed, but the single worm ended up with several friends, and after three days in the refrigerator they are now cluttering the kitchen counter.
A few days ago my friend Becky and I were sitting on the beach watching our boys walk in the water. Sam had on shoes and socks and long pants rolled to his knees and soaked to his thighs, and the boys were taking turns splashing each other and then complaining about being splashed. Sam had handed me a broken piece of glass he’d found on the bottom of the river. He had insisted that I keep it, that I hold on to it and put it in my pocket, but as soon as his back was turned, I tossed it into a pile of bright yellow leaves at the base of a tree in the woods behind us.
“He’ll forget about it,” Becky said. And then she told me about the wooly caterpillars she’d thrown out during the weekend, the way she’d left the cover off their box and told Hamilton in the morning that, dang it, they’d escaped.
When I was a kid my parents played bridge with an older couple named the Marshalls. I don’t remember what Mrs. Marshall looked like. I don’t remember what her perfume smelled like or what color lipstick she wore or even what her voice sounded like when she said “taint sorted yet” as everyone waited for her to play a card. And perhaps I might not even have remembered she existed at all except for the weekend we spent at their lake cabin collecting clams. Twenty years later Mom admitted to me that she hadn’t actually “accidentally” left the clams behind. When we had gotten home from the lake and they weren’t in the trunk, I had sobbed, heartbroken in the same way that I would be in later years when the string ran out and I chased my liberated kite down the street for blocks in my bare feet, heartbroken in the same way that I was when the maid in our Paris hotel room threw out all of the beer cans I’d collected for my high school boyfriend throughout our European tour.
So on my kitchen counter is a Rubbermaid container filled with black dirt, six earthworms, and a tiny yellow inch worm. It’s right next to the bug locker with the dead moth and the bottle of monster spray a friend of Grandma’s made for Sam this summer. I’m not sure when I’ll throw any of it out, but the new grass seed is sprouting and I no longer have rock and weeds lining my driveway, and the first snowfall is probably (knock on wood) at least a few weeks away.