Monday, April 13, 2020

It's Not Easy Being Green

When you can say, "I made this over 30 years ago," you are no longer young. You might not be ancient old yet, but if you were capable of making something out of material other than play-doh in the late 80's or early 90s, you're not young anymore. You were young then. You were ready for everything, and full of the world.

The one thing I did yesterday that was satisfying and met with some success (I burnt our dinner, and had quite a flap of a time getting ducks back inside, and I'm generally itchy and miserable right now but I'm alive), was repainting and refreshing a garden sign I made for my parents over 30 years ago.

The sign reads "It's not easy being green - Kermit the Frog." I can hear the enthusiasm in my mother's voice as she tells me she and dad discussed possible garden quotes and this one was the winner. I remember my choice of Celtic letterform, and the embellishment with a thistle.

I was smitten with the meaning of thistles, which is bravery, courage, and loyalty in the face of treachery. I had to add something symbolic and high falutin' because I was 20 and reading Wuthering Heights and the poetry of William Blake. I wore a lot of black then, and had a bad heart rhythm, and was anemic with poetry. I never thought about how a thistle is a garden weed. If my parents eye rolled at the thistle, I never saw it. They loved the sign, and placed it on the gate that led into their little kitchen garden patch where it remained for several years. This was the garden where Mom grew tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and oregano, and the contents inspired her perfection of eggplant parmesan, which she made often.

When they took down the fence, the sign disappeared, until a couple of years ago when I found it in the basement of their house, just as it was about to be sold. There it was, screwed into the bottom of one of dad's stained glass work tables where he'd used it to create a side for a glass filing system. It was still in service. When I saw it, the question that governed that time in our lives loomed: Did I want it? My sister and I had spent almost a year clearing out our parent's house -- selling, giving away, or sheepishly acquiring the objects of mom's life. I decided I wanted the sign, found a screwdriver, and worked out the screws. I took the sign home where I put it on the back porch of our rental, where it didn't make much sense.

When we moved to our new home, the garden sign ended up out by the kitchen garden, where it sat on a green plastic chair. It caught my eye recently. It was stained with mold, and looking faded. I had plenty of time to refresh it in the middle of an isolating afternoon, so yesterday I sat out on the grass by the duck tractor and spent an hour or so painting. I traced over my old letterforms, the ascenders and descenders of my youth, letters robust with feeling and intent. I replaced only one thing. The thistle. In its place is a cotyledon -- the first leaves of a plant. A simple sprout that can be anything. Ready for the world.

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