So. We had a freakish storm roll through last night, one of those way more significant than expected events. Here to the ranch we got almost 2 inches of rain, a lightening show and heavy winds with 60-MPH-plus gusts. As soon as it’s dry enough to walk out there, I’ll give the garden a close-up inspection.
From the looks of things from the back porch, most of my tomatoes and peppers were slammed to the ground and much of my herb plantings are twisted and broken. It looked as though a war had been fought and my plants were the sad casualties of vicious hand-to-hand combat. I came back inside after reviewing the battlefield from afar, and I sat to breakfast with the family. I had taken a big mug of coffee with me when I walked outside at first light. The storm was a noisy bastard and the rain pelted the metal roof of the ranch house without mercy and a mug of Joe was a needed accessory.
I’d fortified my coffee with a slug of Kahlua and a second dosing of dark rum in anticipation of expected findings. I sat at the big table, then stood again to refill coffee, Kahlua and rum, all three.
“Sonofabitch,” I said to the coffee press, “son… of… a… bitch!”
When the French coffee-making wonder failed to respond, I turned back to the table and walked to my seat, sat. They were quiet. Everyone knows how I feel about our garden. For whatever reason, the over-sized vegetable patch I tend represents many things to me. My past—planting and weeding and watching and de-bugging and harvesting at my elders’ sides—sweating in the sweltering Texas summer while I learned the lessons of my family’s experience. I was reminded at that moment that Mother never worked the garden—Daddy and Granddaddy wouldn’t have it.
The garden has always felt like the future as well. It was in that garden that I first discovered that compost and mulch will control soil erosion better than any man made erosion control device. It was upon that discovery that I developed commercial methods to use compost and mulch as accepted methods by the Texas Department of Transportation and received an Environmental Excellence Award for my efforts. I think that sometime in the future we’ll use Mother Nature’s best ideas of planet protection to protect our planet.
Mother Nature is one smart bitch.
Food production from that patch of dirt also represents my most important charitable donations. I give money just as most caring humans do, but it is the gifts of produce that give the most back to me. Food Bank gifts are typically canned or packaged foods that taste of cardboard and modern food processing—the shit I want to spit out now that I eat mostly fresh foods. My gifts are home grown and produced with the highest organic standards anywhere. Knowing that at least a small bit of a needy family’s rations are of the highest quality available is a comfort to me.
But most of all, that garden represents Austin to me. As silly as it sounds, I have always seen the ebb and flow of that garden as the not-so metaphorical representation of my beloved Texas capitol. The better the garden does the more I love my city. When times are tough in the garden—my city and I are in conflict.
“Sonofabitch,” I now said to the seated Johnsons and Johnson family supporting cast. “First the drought, then the grasshoppers, then the hail storm, drought then heat then drought, and now this. Last night’s winds have torn the garden to shreds. Son… of… a… bitch.” The last was said as if they were the last four words of a dying man. I felt deflated, defeated.
Mother lowered the newspaper and said to me, she said, “You brought it on yourself, Mooner Johnson, the Seven Years of Pestilence are on your soul. Pastor Browningwell and I both have warned you about your wicked ways,” and here she chuckled, “and God has sent the message,” she chuckled some more and smiled this shit-eating grin that makes me want to stick a serrated blade between her ribs.
“Sooner or later you’re going to repent, son, or God is going to strike you down. You should listen to your readers. Some of your readers have keen insight.” Having had her say, Mother hid her face back behind the paper and I started steaming—the slow-burn of an overfilled pressure cooker.
I remembered why Mother never worked the garden. My granddaddy had banned her before I was old enough to remember. He couldn’t take my mother’s constant bitchy banter. I hissed what I hoped to be a cleansing breath then gulped a lungful of air, released that slowly as well.
“Mother,” I started, “I would be most grateful if you wouldn’t get all up in my ass this morning. You know how important the garden is to me.”
I hissed out another breath over the rim of my coffee mug to cool the surface. I inhaled the coffee and its sweet alcohol fragrance filled my head. I was reminded of my third honeymoon—the first one to Mexico. Anna the Amazon, who was seated on my left and next to Sister, was my then new bride. If you buy my silly fucking book you can hear all about that honeymoon and how Anna and Sister kept me out of a Mexican jail. Kept me from serious physical harm as well.
I think it was when we were on our honeymoon that Anna concluded that she is a lesbian woman and unfit for marriage to the male Johnson offspring. At this morning’s breakfast, she was seated between her ex-husband and her current wife, a circumstance most people are incapable of experiencing. Anna said, “Isn’t that what we drank sitting in bed on our honeymoon, Mooner,” and she took my mug from my grasp.
She sniffed, sighed and sipped. “Yes-siree-Bob, that’s it! I love that smell and taste. Will you make me one, please?”
“Me too,” was a chorus from all at the table save Mother.
I busied myself with the French presses and mugs and boiling water, and the alcoholic additives, and forgot about my damaged garden. I made the coffees as we talked about our marriage and Anna’s transformation into Sister’s wife. I started thinking back on my few weeks of marriage to Anna and her telling me she had something to tell me. I have always known that my sister is a lesbian. She knew from her first breath and was proud to be so. But Anna was closeted until we married, and she came out to me. I’ll never forget how tortured she was to admit her homosexuality and how she cried and apologized to me for ending our marriage.
I loved Anna more in her confessions than in our life together. I am constantly amazed at the courage gay people display when they come out. Fuck it, gay people astound me just in their gayness. The courage I see in today’s gay America is a wonderful thing to see.
I was standing in my role as barrista and thinking of just how proud I am of her and my little sister when I heard the newspaper slap into Mother’s lap. “This is disgusting, you talking about spoiling the sanctity of marriage and then all of this homo-sex-ual talk. God has spoken, Mooner, and He’ll speak again if you don’t change your ways.”
I felt my eyes bulge and my ears pop from the spike in blood pressure at Mother’s words. I was processing the thousand different thoughts and actions I was ready to use when Gram slammed her hand on the table. The plates and silver jumped with the force of her blow and made a rattle. “Goddammit, Mother, I’ve got a total full belly a yer shit. Put some shoes on an meet me in tha barn.”
Gram pushed her chair back and stood up, pointed a bony finger across the table at my mother. “Git yer ass outta that chair, goddamit, I’mma whup it an stuff yer carcass inna trunk.”
Spittle was flying from Gram’s mouth as she spat out the words. Her face was crimson with rage. “You ain’t no Christian, Mother, yer a asshole just like tha fucking Governor. I’mma kick yer ass like Rick Perry’s daddy should done his.”
How much do I love my grandmother? There wasn’t a fistfight but only because Mr. Dave brokered a thin peace. This wasn’t the first time the giant-peckered old geezer had negotiated calm at my table and likely it won’t be the last. I’m starting to think that having an elephant-sized penis might be a source of insight. Then again, Mr. Dave is an elegant, eloquent man. A gentleman.
But I learned a valuable lesson with all of this, actually two lessons. I learned that I’m losing interest in anything my mother has to say—her integrity of thought is seriously flawed and her logic is twisted. I think I can fight with her far less because I get it that she will never change. She’ll always be a bigoted, sanctimonious right-wing religious fuckball.
Also learned is that Austin isn’t what it used to be. People like my mother were in the minority and were silent as such. They now seem to be everywhere and Austin seems like baby Dallas—a smaller, more hip but less sophisticated version of Texas’ dumbest city. I don’t like Austin like I used to.
Ugh. I need beer. Manana, y’all.