She dreamed of daylilies, the butter-yellow Stella de Oros, and the heart-shaped hostas called Halcyon, but the soil in the yard was too poor to dig. Randolph County red clay, thick and muddy.
For years, she went without — a yard bare and plain, with patches of grass, but no flowers — and never complained. One day, to her astonishment, she came home from work and saw my dad directing the neighbor atop his backhoe.
The two men were tearing up the yard, clawing out giant clods of that red clay. My dad’s intention had been to till the lawn to make it workable for plants, so that he and my mom could finally put in a garden — a springtime gift for her — but instead, the backhoe pulled up massive rocks. My Lord, you never saw so many rocks, but no wonder, here at the edge of the Uwharries. Rhyolite and granite boulders as big as pumpkins, too heavy to pick up, a Stonehenge scattered across my parents’ two and a half acres.
“What are we going to do now?” my mom asked, looking at her torn-up yard. My dad, whose heart was always in the right place, just shook his head.
For the next week, they worked. My mom pushed and rolled and hauled rocks; my dad set up a makeshift sled attached to the riding lawnmower and dragged rocks across the yard. Rock by rock, they built a wall. Then another. Then another.
Altogether, my parents constructed a dozen rock walls on the property, some of them four feet high, some of them 10 feet long. They trucked in topsoil and filled in the walls. My dad ordered 100 hosta plants — Frances Williams and Gold Standard and Halcyon — and 50 daylilies — Summer Wine and Pink Damask and Stella de Oro — and they spent that spring, 30 years ago, planting perennials together. Hostas in the shade; daylilies in the sun.
The next year, when the plants came back, my mom divided them, and my parents planted more.
When they moved from Randolph County to Greensboro a few years ago, downsizing to a townhouse, the final load into the 12-foot moving van was a dozen pots filled with daylilies and hostas. My mom couldn’t bear to leave them all behind.
In the last year of my dad’s life, there wasn’t time for gardening. My mom spent her days driving him back and forth to doctors. In the spring, she would veer off their route to drive through the older neighborhoods — in Irving Park, in Fisher Park — so they could see yards that had been worked for years. Hostas in the shady spots; daylilies in the sun. Whenever my dad spotted a patch of yellow daylilies from the passenger side of the car, he’d lift his oxygen tube away from his nose, shout “Stella!” and turn to my mom and grin.
This month, my mom’s hostas and daylilies are reemerging, still in those pots, in the same soil from the old house. On warm days, she sits out back on her patio and thinks of the years spent gardening with my dad, thankful for such happy memories, grateful for the returning gifts of spring.
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