Janet Sheridan: Of Gardens and Quirks

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Janet Sheridan

My friend Mary, an expert gardener, presides over a generous yard filled with green treasures that invite exploration and discovery. When I wander through it, I’m reminded of a book I read when young, The Secret Garden.

Though Mary’s yard lacks high rock walls and a locked door hidden behind roses, it compensates with a picket fence and a deck that seeps into the yard’s casual beauty.

During a recent telephone conversation, Mary told me that she now prunes, thins and discards more than she used to grow.

Her words validated the learning curve Joel and I’ve experienced: We used to agonize over plants that failed to flourish as we waited for flowerbeds to fill and saplings to gain girth. Any plant that prospered was precious and protected. I was reluctant to cut a blossom to enjoy indoors because I feared there’d never be another.

The first time we divided and transplanted perennials, we felt bold—and worried. Now, because we know our decisiveness will make the surviving plants sturdier and more productive, we cut back, rip out and divide without fear.

I wish I could learn to do the same judicious discarding in other aspects of my life.

For example, it wouldn’t hurt me to prune back my tendency to make snap judgments.

I sometimes decide from afar that others are persnickety, pompous or petty; then I get to know them and realize they’re a bit bashful, feeling insecure or worried about doing things right—traits I share with them.

I could also divest myself of the notion that my memory is the correct memory.

“You’re wrong, Joel,” I’ll state with finality. “The car I had when we got married was blue. I should know.”

Later, I see a framed snapshot of us standing in front of the car in question and am startled by its vivid maroon hue.

I don’t rush to share the news with Joel.

As long as I’m throwing out personality disorders, perhaps I’ll take a whack at the high standards I set for my own performance in comparison to others, and the frustration I feel when I don’t measure up.

I used to scuff my toes in the dirt, wait my turn to bat and watch my sister, Carolyn, stride to the plate. The opposing players groaned; the fielders faded farther into the crab grass; and the pitcher looked downright discouraged.

As Carolyn rounded the bases headed for home, a grin of pure happiness on her face, I felt hateful and considered faking appendicitis to avoid my turn at bat.

Moments later, under a blue sky and bright sun, surrounded by neighborhood friends having fun, I swung mightily, bounced the ball to the pitcher and was out at first. My face flushed with an embarrassment and anger that ruined my day.

I’ve learned to camouflage my self-disappointment better—smiling so vigorously after my third gutter ball that my facial bones snap—but I’d like to abandon it altogether.

And another quirk to question: why do I think I should keep every craft project I ever created?

They’re ugly.

Finally, I need to deadhead my attempts to mold Joel into my image. He’ll never understand the philosophy behind jotting peanut butter on the shopping list after he’s scraped the jar clean. Letting the phone ring without answering it is beyond him, and he’s not at all interested in crossword puzzles.

So be it. I need to accept his foibles and move on.

But I think I’ll begin discarding my bad habits tomorrow. Right now I need to remind Joel to quit putting his beer on the refrigerator shelf I designated for milk.

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