Virtue & Mischief: Pulling the weeds


For several days last week, Krista repeated a mantra: “Saturday’s supposed to be gorgeous! You’re gonna help me with the weeds—right?” To the uninitiated, this utterance may appear to consist of one statement and one question, but I know better. The little grace note at the end—the lilting “right?” appended to her simple assessment of my future—was an act of courtesy, a verbal sleight-of-hand designed to dupe me into thinking I had a choice.

I can’t blame her, though. I hate most yard work and respond accordingly: I avoid it at nearly any cost. You’d think I was allergic to it…which, in fact, I am. Sort of. Several summers ago, when we lived in a suburb of Kansas City, I suffered for a few days with a sore throat, itchy eyes, and nasal congestion. Then I got better. A couple of days later I got sick again, the improved. The pattern repeated itself four or five times before I realized that the act of cutting the grass (and, more specifically, emptying the clippings from the grass catching attachment into environmentally friendly lawn bags) was the culprit causing my symptoms. From that point forward, I have relinquished mowing duty because I’m just not all that jazzed about the sensation of a nail file rubbing up and down my esophagus.

In any case, Saturday morning arrived and Krista leaped out of bed, a proverbial spring in each of her steps. From the bathroom she warbled “It IS gorgeous! This is great! I’ve been looking forward to this all week! You’re gonna help me with the weeds—right?”

That “question” again. For a nanosecond I toyed with the idea of responding in the negative, but regained my sanity owing to one inescapable truth: The amigos need a father. I rapidly moved to another train of thought. Who looks forward to pulling weeds? I wondered. That’s like declaring, “I just can’t wait for my root canal next Thursday!” or “April 15th is wayyyyyy better than Christmas Day, dontcha think?!?” or “Tofu burgers taste just like the real thing!” You get the picture.

After a quick breakfast and two cups of coffee to get my reluctant juices flowing, I ventured outside and greeted the spectacular sunshine. The birds, like my beautiful bride, warbled happily. The cicadas bzzzz-bzzzz-bzzzzed. Earth-moving equipment chugged noisily a block away at the Greenville High School football field. The temperature hovered at a perfect 75 degrees. The weeds, peeking through the top layer of the soil next to our house and garage, mocked me.

“Tim, why don’t you start over there—at the far end of the fence? I’ll begin on this side and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle?” Krista directed me, ever the happy warrior. I kneeled down and began pinching and pulling, pinching and pulling, eschewing the gardening gloves for the feel of dirt and sinewy plant life between my thumb and index finger, and the gentle heft of moist earth accumulating under my fingernails.

Pinch, pull, pinch, pull, pinch, pull, deposit deracinated weeds in plastic bucket. Shift body a couple of feet to the left. Repeat. Ugggh. Give me a tofu burger with a root canal chaser!

Fifteen yards away Krista was still warbling about the weather, about our slumbering children, about her mother and sister, about how much she loved the movie (“The Godfather”) we had watched the night before, about politics, about virtually everything under the sun. I grunted tepid affirmations and marveled at her state of nirvana.

Fifteen or twenty minutes later we concluded our work on that particular section and began on another part of the yard. Pinch, pull, pinch, pull, pinch, pull, deposit. Now my back was beginning to protest slightly. Pinch, pull, deposit, shift body. Groan. Stand up and stretch. Wipe sweat from brow.

An hour into our project my lower back began to protest more intensely. I sighed and rubbed my temples. I stood, stretched, and groaned again. Two heavy droplets of sweat tumbled from my forehead and splashed on the black, fecund soil. I had made solid progress, and even found myself enjoying the process of clearing the soil and the obvious results of my labor. Still, I was ready to throw in the towel for the day when my ears were pricked by a vaguely familiar sound.

What on earth is that infernal, happy-sounding racket?! I asked myself silently. I turned and discovered that Krista was humming. Joyfully. She bounded from spot to spot, plucking out weeds and trimming shrubs, happy as a lark.

“Tim,” she cooed, “thank you so much. This really means a lot to me.” She smiled her most resplendent, sincere smile. “You’re doing a fantastic job. I owe you.”

I smiled and nodded. My back felt better. “No problem,” I replied, adding, “What do you owe me?”

“Oh, let your imagination fill in the blanks.”

Note to self: Help Krista with weeding any time she wants.

By Tim Swensen

Virtue & Mischief

Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.

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