KEEPING UP WITH NATURE
LORI OSIECKI ILLUSTRATION
When my kids were little, I used to bring them down the block to my mother-in-law, Ms. Larda’s, and ask her to keep them for a couple hours because me and my husband, Lout, had to wax the floors and we couldn’t do it with the kids around.
Well, it wasn’t exactly floors, and we wasn’t exactly waxing, but it was true that we couldn’t do it with the kids around – if you get my drift.
Time flies and the tables are turned. Lout is departed – may he rest in peace and quiet – and my daughter Gumdrop now has kids she needs to get rid of once in a while. But she lives out in the country, an hour-and-a-half away. She can’t just drop her kids off for a couple hours.
In April, she and her husband Slime went to a wedding in Dollywood, so me and Ms. Larda watched her kids for a week. This month they got to rush off to Slime’s uncle’s funeral in Miami.
Dead uncle, my tush. They are going to wax floors.
But Lollipop and Go-Cup are my only grandchildren, so we say we’ll watch them.
Well. Come to find out, when we get there, that my daughter, born and bred in the civilization of Chalmette, has overnight become a nature fanatic.
She grows vegetables, all planted in rows with little signs saying what they are. Kohlrabi. Swiss chard. Kale.
Edamame. Not one single green pea or French fry. It is a wonder her kids got any appetite at all.
It gets worse.
In the laundry room, she got a worm farm. Not the kind that you scream and spray Raid at. This is made of forest-green plastic and filled with special worm dirt and earthworms shipped from out of state. They squirm around in luxury and dine on leftover vegetables.
She asks would we mind feeding these worms the kids’ leftovers. I tell her them worms are going to have an obesity problem if they eat all the vegetables her kids don’t. I ain’t seen no vegetable cross their lips since Gerber’s strained food. She says just feed the worms a reasonable amount, and please heat it in the microwave so it will be more digestible and let it cool for five minutes.
She don’t say how to get the kids to eat their vegetables.
There is a faucet in the side of this worm factory, and when you turn it on, “worm tea” comes out. Gumdrop explains that worm tea is for the veggies.
Ms. Larda says, “No wonder these kids don’t eat their vegetables. Just try smothering them in ketchup; that always worked for my kids.”
But Gumdrop says no, worm tea isn’t for people; it’s for the garden vegetables outside.
But that ain’t all. She also informs us she’s keeping a beehive. But we don’t got to feed the bees. They sip nectar from the flowers, just like in the Disney movies. The beehive is at the far end of the yard and it has a wire fence around it. The kids know not to go in there. And I shouldn’t go in there with the Raid spray, either.
I don’t know if I’m at my daughter’s or the Audubon Insectarium. I say, “What about roaches? You got Roach Motels with mints on the pillow?” But she’s kissing the kids good-bye and ignores me.
That afternoon, the kids are having story time with Ms. Larda, and I go to the laundry room to run a load of clothes.
I’m barefoot. I notice my feet are wet. Uh-oh. The faucet on the worm farm is on. Maybe I knocked it when I was hauling in the clothes. Anyway, there’s a spreading puddle of “worm tea,” which I suddenly realize is a euphemism for something more disgusting because them worms aren’t heating up little teapots in there. I leap on top of the washer and yell for Ms. Larda.
She’s no help. “I ain’t wading through that. Handle it yourself, Modine,” she says to me.
So I climb down to turn the faucet off, but I turn it the wrong way, and more gushes out and splashes on my pants.
(Worse things have splashed on my pants in this house, so it ain’t that bad, except that it came out of a worm.)
Finally it slows to a brown drip and stops. Lollipop pipes up that the worms are probably very upset in there. I tell her I’m very upset out here.
Afterwards, while my clothes are swishing around in the washing machine in a lot of bleach, I sit outside in my bathing suit and sunglasses and soak up some late-day sun while the kids splash in their kiddie pool. That will get them clean and also wear them out enough to sleep good, I hope. After Ms. Larda hauls them in to bed, I actually nod off out there.
When I open my eyes, it’s dark. There ain’t no street lights in the country, and it’s absolutely pitch black. I don’t know how anybody finds their way around here. I head for the house, but I go the wrong way. I bump up against a wire fence, and I hear buzzing. Bees.
Gumdrop makes the kids stay on this side of the fence, but I bet nobody makes the bees stay on the other side. I grope back the way I came, trip into the kiddie pool and screech until Ms. Larda comes out with a flashlight.
She shines it into my face. “Why do you still have your sunglasses on, Modine?” she says.
Inside, Ms. Larda pours us each a glass of wine from the emergency bottle in her suitcase.
“To city lights,” I say.
“To waxing floors,” says Ms. Larda. She smirks. “Them were the days.”
We drink to that.