Fool for France

I have to get going on this garden. Too much of it looks like the gravel-strewn mess you see here, the place where the crew mixed concrete and left too much of the debris. The bushes behind are the only sizable remaining area of mature growth, so apart from occasionally pruning it back, I have left it alone.

You can see that it is totally overgrown. I figured that my first step would be to thin it out to give the “keeper” plants some air. Hahahaha, silly me. You see, threading its way through all this miscellaneous greenery is a happy, healthy and well-established blackberry bush. Or are they vines? I don’t know but they are viciously thorny and they are everywhere. I figure it’s karma.

When I was little my great-grandmother read me the Uncle Remus stories. That this was before they became unfashionable gives you a hint as to how old I am. I loved those stories and I have to admit, the whole racial angle totally escaped me. What I keyed in on was the trickster, Brer Rabbit. He was smart, clever, subversive and funny. Uncle Remus is a trickster himself — who, after all, is choosing which stories to tell and how to tell them? — but at the time I saw him as the male counterpart to my widowed great-grandmother, kindly and giving me permission to be whoever I might want to be.

For anyone who does not know the stories, they are a collection of African folk tales. They were collected by Joel Chandler Harris, a Southern white guy who made the black narrator, Uncle Remus, at least on the surface, completely nonthreatening. The characters in the stories were animals. I have read that Harris was retelling stories told to him, during his childhood, and were an attempt to create empathy for black people, maybe avert a lynching or two.

As I say, I was a little kid, probably preschool, and apart from my great-grandmother — I grew up in a family where a woman of 16 or 17 really ought to be married and with child, so she would have been about the age I am now — I knew that the situation I was raised in was one I wanted to get away from. And though I couldn’t articulate it, I knew that a girl would not have a straightforward path toward choosing her own destiny. I knew I would have to be sneaky, like Brer Rabbit. He became my role model and I wanted to be thrown into the briar patch like you cannot believe.

It worked. I got out. Times have changed and I have not always had to use stealth to achieve my objectives. And now look, I have a briar patch to eradicate. Serves me right. But there is some great stuff in there. I have shown you the fragrant white flowers that bloom in May. And just today, in among the blackberries, I found what might turn out to be an apple tree.

23 Replies to “The Briar Patch”

    1. Thank you. Those articles to which I linked are well worth a read, by the way. As for the project, you never really get rid of those things, do you? Even one tiny root can send put a whole new plant. We had them in California and even when I left, they were still sending out shoots. I don’t have the diligence of my gardeners and right now I don’t have gardeners, either, so this is going to be a toughie.

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  1. How I loved Brer Rabbit. He was wily and willfull and what I wanted to be. I so enjoyed reading your story and the skillful way you bring us to the knotty (and thorny) problem of your garden. It will take wile, it will take willfulness but I am certain you will create something beautiful and in the meantime you can pretend you are Snow White and munch that apple when it ripens! And those blackberries do beg for a pie (or a crumble as it would more likely be in my house) – that or my foolproof and delicious blackberry and apple cake with mace. It’s really good to ‘see’ you – I hope you are keeping well 🙂

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    1. Thank you. We need to bring those books back from their PC purgatory. They taught me as much as any Nonviolent Communication course about how to get where you need to go without shouting, much less pulling out a gun or plowing a car into a bunch of people. Those are needed lessons for these troubled times. As for the bushes, I agree, they need stout gloves, pruning shears and determination. The berries themselves may not make it to the kitchen — too yummy!

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      1. I think one of the lessons we really need to learn is mindfulness when it comes to being ‘PC’ … being over-zealous as a censor brings its own dangers. These books are no more racist than I am. The lessons you learned are the lessons that are so sorely needed in this troubled world of ours. I recommend a beekeeper suit for the brambles and clearing of the under and overgrowth. This thought just occurred to me. Or go to Gamme Vert and pick up one of their super-snappy green boiler suits with two cuff to collar zips – I promise they are fantastic gardening gear (with duck boots or wellingtons and gauntlets and probably a headscarf knotted à la Rosie the Riveter).

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        1. Green boiler suit? Lovely! Actually it sounds like just the thing for brambles, as well as for nettles, winter cold, rain and all kinds of things. I’ll pick one up.

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  2. Now imagining Bizzy in the above outfit, with a version for Jacques naturally.
    I agree re PC and when I recall my childhood reading when Noddy faced off the Golliwogs and the Famous Five did no favours for the privileged kids myths, I chuckle.
    Racism? Elitism? children’s literature. FGS!!

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    1. Are you dissing my green zipper suit? I don’t even have one yet but I love the idea. I can’t wait to find one. As for Uncle Remus, during one of my many, many sessions in Jungian analysis — long before I rebuilt a house, I rebuilt myself — my analyst pointed out that there is no one thing that does anything to us. Context is huge. In my case I was read the stories by a kind little Southern lady who also taught me a children’s song about the pointless cruelty of racism. My dad had work that took him to South Central LA for years, simply because he respected and got along with everyone. He would talk about that. So I tend to agree that context is huge. There is no one thing. I have no plans to start a crusade but I think a book that was written with love and respect and which teaches valuable life lessons ought to be widely available.

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      1. I agree. And I’m not dissing your green suit, in fact I’m a bit envious of the idea and wondering if one can wear such a funky sounding outfit whilst pottering around a terrace and courtyard and watering my window boxes?

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        1. Of course! You’re English! I’m American! In my experience, that gives us a lot of latitude.

          One of these days, if I haven’t already, I’ll do a post about the amorous advances of French country men. I’m old and fat and I still get propositions before the guy asks my name. If the green suit wards them off, I’ll be wearing it every day.

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    1. Right you are, as usual. I had a pair of elbow-length leather gardening gloves that walked off during a contractor cleanup. The guys missed an entire shower stall and maybe an acre of cement but somehow they found those gloves and made off with them. Welders gloves will work just as well and won’t be attractive or look expensive. Thus they will still be here when I need them.

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    1. Gerard, any time you want to fight those brambles to collect a pie’s worth of blackberries, I will bake it for you. You will have suffered for it!

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  3. Blackberries and apples growing together – wonderful combination! Mine never get to the pie stage (my mother made a fabulous one) but are usually just mixed up with Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche once the apples are slightly stewed … I try to kid myself that without the carbs of the pastry, it’s less fattening. And I so agree with you and cotes about Enid Blyton and Uncle Remus. Zippedy-doo-dah! I loved my Golliwog and my black (boy) doll Joe far more than any of the dumb blond Rosebud dolls.

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    1. Really? The berries made it into the house? Sometimes I think I’ll do a potager with just thornless berries, cherry tomatoes and edible podded peas. Then I’ll spend the summer eating two meals a day, at least, out in the garden. I already have a couple of cherry trees and I was amazed to find that apple. I doubt that would provide a balanced diet but especially during cherry season, who cares?

      When it comes to the books, we’re grandmothers now. I didn’t have kids and I still have grandkids. Parents are pretty fussy these days. When I was little my parents were just glad to have me gone. So it’s hard to say but maybe we can find old copies of those books and bring them back. It would take some care. I remember reading Mary Poppins to a niece, complete with the expurgated chapter with the black lady. Naturally that was her favorite part of the book. I remember her whooping and laughing, running around the house shouting “Mair’ Poppins! Mair’ Poppins!” I had to explain to her that outside the house, some people might take that the wrong way. But the stories are great fun and teach valuable life lessons. If we could deal with more things with more humor and less confrontation, well, wouldn’t that be a nice thing.

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      1. One of the favourite books of all time in infants schools during my childhood was “Little Black Sambo” – everyone adored the little hero. Banned now, of course.

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        1. I wonder if they could change his name, whether that would make it any better. All I remember is is the part about turning the tigers into butter. I felt sad for the tigers.

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