Tall palms and crape myrtles stand sentry in the yard of my new Southern home, replacing the maples and pines I grew up with in the Midwest. Hibiscus lure birds to their bright flowers, and roses seem to bloom all year. I grew roses up north, and they do exactly what I expect them to do.
But not the wisteria, a vine I planted to give life to an boring brown fence. I loved its name, just as I do the jasmine and the bougainvillea. The wisteria reminds me of lilacs, and wistful nights when the flash of fireflies lit up what I will always think of as an endless summer. How long those three months of freedom seemed in June in the mind of a child, how quickly they pass.
Simple memories stem from simple times. I thought the vine would be early summer sweet and fast growing. I expected it to send fragrance and blossoms to the neighbors on the other side of the ugly fence, saying: "Yes, this is our private place, but you are welcome into our lives."
Instead, it grows slowly and the blossoms clump into hard knots, like unripe grapes, and the color is deep purple, nearly black, the color of a moonless night. The fragrance is heavy, and when I touch the clusters, tiny petals fall into my hand. They are not buds at all, but flowers, already spent.
Maybe it is just the heat. There are no fireflies this far South either.
Farther down the fence, the neighbors planted squash. I smiled when it first peeked over the fence; it is an odd place for vegetables. I've had squash in gardens, but never considered it for its aesthetics before. I appreciated its soft, broad, deep green leaves and its delicate yellow flowers. It loved the weather, and long before our prissy flower vines had meandered to the top of their trellis, the squash had reached the ground on our side. I enjoyed watching the bright petals open and close with the sunlight.
Last week, the squash disappeared. Only a few leaves littered the manicured lawn. Perhaps fruit had begun to set on the neighbor's side, or a well meaning friend pointed out the common quality of the plant. Seems keeping up appearances is important here.
I grieved. I had carefully untangled the squash vine from the wisteria, training the tendrils to wrap around the fence and trellis so that neither would choke out the other. I was impressed with the squash's ability to cover the ugly wood quickly, and was looking forward to seeing how long it lasts here. Squash up North dies out after frost. There may be no frost here at all.
Apparently it didn't fit the landscape scheme any longer, and is gone. I suppose I should trim back the wisteria too; its wild growth may not be what they want to see peering over the fence either. But I think I will leave it alone, and see if it can survive, or if perhaps both the neighbors and I can adapt to its sentiment.
I will adapt too. I will adjust to the climate, and enjoy the extra days of sunlight. I will slow down my speech and learn to drink sweet tea. There is a good chance I won't fit in anyway. There are some things I just won't adapt to.
I will not adapt to holding back my son so that "ladies" can go first. There may be a place for "good" manners in some settings, but this is 2001. I want neither my son nor my daughter to assume one has rights superior to the other. It's time for the indoctrination of sexism to stop.
I will not engage in lunchtime chatter denigrating immigrants who work hard as housekeepers, or painters or tradespeople, as some of the locals do. They need something to think about, I know, but it is time to quit indulging the indoctrination of even subtle bigotry.
I will not adapt to the "sports is king" philosophy. I will never yell at a coach. I will never tell my children to skip their homework and go to practice. I either mean it when I say it is how you play the game that counts, or I don't. It is time to quit sending mixed messages to children about values.
I will never use the word "pervert" to describe another human being. I will not own a gun.
I will adapt to the things about which I have no strong feelings. But my kids, and any of the neighborhood kids who stumble across my path, will know that there is a broader view to the world. They need to know that if they don't follow the way things have always been, that it's okay. That change does happen.
In the meantime, we need to keep untangling vines, so that all of them can survive. Too many people haven't had the chance to thrive. I will always wonder, and mourn, those who should have grown into beautiful vines, tangled with the flowers, that were yanked out or trimmed back too much to fit the neighborhood. I have a feeling the world would be a lot greener, with fewer ugly borders, if all the flowers were allowed to reach over the fences, and say, "This is my space, but you are welcome in my world."
Nelsen is a mother, business lawyer and writer living in Houston, Texas. She spent most of her life in the Midwest, but is adapting to shoveling sunshine. She is the Opinions Editor for Moondance, and can be reached at