BOOM! It sounded like something exploded right outside our house.
“What was that?” my mother asked, dropping the meatloaf.
It was alright, I hate meatloaf anyway. “I’ll see,” I said, leaving my chair.
“You sit down, young lady.” My dad got up, taking the phone with him as he opened our living room door. “You never know what might be out there these days.”
You don’t either, I thought but didn’t dare say. That’s the way it is in our house, true feelings are mostly stifled in the name of getting along.
“There’s a U-Haul backing into the next yard,” my mother said from the kitchen window. “Someone must have bought the old Sommers’ place. I do hope they tear down that little house and replace it with something more in agreeable with the rest of the neighborhood.”
Agreeable? That’s Mom’s way of saying the Sommers’ old house is, well, old.
“Hope not,” Dad said. “That was the first house ever to be built in this area.” I watched, as he rubbed his hands together with a grin on his face that looked like mine when we went out for ice cream. “Oh, the stories I bet that old house could tell.”
“I hope they have kids.” I jumped up and ran onto the front porch, my dad chasing after me, yelling at me to sit back down at the table. “Dinner’s ruined,” I said. “Mom dropped the meatloaf.” Thankfully.
“Oh dear.” Mom touched her chest the way she always did in times of great distress. I never understood why she did that. I tried it once and only managed to get chocolate fingerprints on my blouse. “Will you look at that?”
I squinted, but saw nothing other than an old, blue, rusty pickup truck turning into my neighbor’s yard.
“That truck is hideous,” my mother went on. “There must be some kind of rule prohibiting vehicles like that in our neighborhood contract. I’ll check the bylaws.”
“Bylaws.” I rolled my eyes. Those stupid things were always getting in the way of my life. I couldn’t even get a bulldog puppy because of the rule against attack dogs. One measly, cute, cuddly puppy with brown spots and blue eyes. “I hate those rules,” I mumbled.
“Those rules are for the good of the neighborhood,” my mother scolded me.
“Oh brother, here we go again.” I never understood what the welfare of the neighborhood had to do with the length of a person’s grass, the color of their house, or what kind of pet they could have. If my mom had her way, our new neighbor would have to sell their truck.
The truck backfired again, and it wasn’t long before all four of us; my dad, my mom, my older brother Billy, and me were standing on our lawn—along with half the neighborhood.
It was quite the sight. A rusty, blue pickup truck, splattered with yellow, and red paint and fuzzy yellow dice hanging on the visor sitting in Mr. and Mrs. Sommers’ old driveway, sounding like the motor was running backward. The bed loaded with stained cardboard boxes, rusty metal buckets, wire and who knows what else?
“There goes the neighborhood,” Mrs. Pratter said to my mom.
I scowled at her, but didn’t say anything. My mom nudged me anyway.
The driver’s side door squeaked as it opened. Well, actually, it was more of a groan. Then a woman wearing bright, yellow pants and a multi-flowered shirt slipped out. “My, this is quite the welcome,” she said, straightening her clothes. She retrieved a floppy straw hat from her truck and forced it over her orange, curly hair. Thick, red-framed glasses slipped down her nose and she pushed them back up with a dirty hand. “I’m Pansy Rose Gardener. Pleased to meet everyone.”
Everyone mumbled half-hearted welcomes, then meandered back into their cookie-cutter houses. This is my family and my neighborhood—everyone is stifled and similar. We all live in the same kind of houses. Our yards are similar to the point of having the same kinds of flowers and trees. Most everyone leaves for work and school at the same time. I used to wonder if we didn’t all watch the same television shows every evening. Just a middle-classed neighborhood in an average sized town—Middlesburg. I call it Dronesville. To make matters worse, we live on Eden Street. Have you ever heard of anything so plain? Something told me that Pansy Rose Gardener was about to shake things up.
Soon it was just me and Pansy Rose. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Robin Joyner.” From inside my house I could hear my dad and mom yelling at our dog, Buster, to stop eating the meatloaf. Oh well. I heaved a sigh of relief. At least I didn’t have to eat it.
“Hello, Robin Joyner.” Pansy Rose stooped over and offered her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Pansy Rose had a nice smile, although her teeth were yellow and crooked, but that just made her more interesting to me. “It’s nice to meet you too, Miss Gardener.”
Pansy Rose looked around in exaggerated movements. “Where do you see a Miss Gardener?”
I giggled. “You.”
“No, Robin Joyner. I’m just plain, old Pansy Rose.”
“Robin, come inside,” my mom shouted, from the kitchen window. “Daddy ordered pizza.”
I looked up at the sky, folding my hands in prayer. “Thank you, God. Thank you.” I figured my mom dropping that meatloaf had to be that divine intervention my dad is always talking about. “You want to come to supper, Pansy Rose? I’m sure Mom won’t mind.”
“I appreciate the thought, Robin Joyner.” She rubbed her tummy. “But pizza doesn’t like me.”
The weeks to come brought some interesting changes to the old Sommers’ house. Two days after she moved in, Pansy Rose had someone dig up the big backyard and lay a bunch of pipes. Then came three long structures made of pipes and covered with clear plastic.
“Looks like Miss Gardener is installing greenhouses,” my dad said to my mom while he trimmed our hedges.
“She’s destroying the unity of the neighborhood.” My mom stamped her feet. “There must be something we can do about this.”
The next morning, my mom was on the phone talking to the president of the neighborhood home owners’ association. I know that was who she was talking to, because he’s the only person she ever threatens with selling our house for below value. Mr. Briggs hated the idea of our neighborhood land values going down. “I swear, Ethan, if you don’t do something about that walking fashion crime, I will convene a committee to have you replaced as president of the homeowners’ association.”
Yikes. Mom was bringing out the really big guns. Mr. Briggs loved that job more than he did Mrs. Briggs.
A few minutes later, Mom slammed the phone on the table. Stomping her way into the dining room, she yelled, “Ethan says there’s nothing he can do. Can you believe that, Ross?” She waved her arms into the air. It looked like she was after a jet-powered fly. “There’s nothing the president of the homeowners’ association can do.”
“Then let the matter rest, Judy.” My dad turned a page in his newspaper. “What do you feel like doing today?”
My mom stared out our kitchen window, sipping her coffee. “You’re going to be late for work.”
“It’s Saturday,” my dad said, without looking up from the sports section.
“Oh, that’s right.” She slumped. “I forgot.” Then Mom flung open the blinds. “See what that woman has done? She’s got me so upset, I can’t remember what day of the week it is.”
“Pansy Rose hasn’t done anything.” I turned off my cartoons. “You’re always forgetting things.”
“Young lady.” My mom pointed toward the stairs. “Go clean your room.”
That was the one thing she never forgot to tell me to do. But it was alright, Daddy was cleaning the outside of my bedroom window a few days ago, and still hadn’t put the ladder away. I would make my bed and put my clothes away, then I would lock the door so Mom would think I was pouting. Then all I had to do was climb down that ladder and go see Pansy Rose. “Yes, Ma’am,” I said, my head hanging low so Mom would think she had defeated me.
“You shouldn’t be so hard on the girl,” I heard my dad say. “She’s only telling the truth.”
“Robin needs to learn not to judge adults.”
“Huh,” I mumbled, while ascending the stairs. “Mom judges everyone.” Thankfully, she didn’t hear me, or I would have been banned from going to Kelsey Morgan’s pool party next weekend.
I took about an hour cleaning my room. If I was caught visiting Pansy Rose, a job well done might lessen the punishment. Then I locked my bedroom door and eased my window open. About halfway down, the ladder slipped and I clung to it like a monkey to a branch. As if holding onto a falling ladder was going to do me any good.
I jumped the last two rungs. I had never been so happy to get off a ladder in my entire life.
Pansy Rose’s house was about half the size of the other houses on our block. When Mr. and Mrs. Sommers moved away, my mom and her friend Mrs. Finklemeyer started a petition to have it torn down. Fortunately, nobody else signed it. I think our other neighbors like the idea of having a smaller house around. I think it makes them feel superior.
I was going to knock on Pansy Rose’s door, but I heard singing coming from her backyard. It wasn’t pleasant to listen to, but God said to make a joyful noise. He didn’t say it had to sound pretty.
The screechy singing stopped just about the same time the outbuilding door opened. “Hi.” Pansy Rose stepped out into the yard. “What are you doing here, Robin Joyner?”
I stumbled backwards a bit. “Nothing. I swear.”
“It’s okay.” Pansy Rose, patted my shoulder. “You’re welcome here anytime.”
I swallowed hard. “Okay.”
She knelt down in front of me. “Are you okay, Robin Joyner?”
“Yeah,” I said, trying to get over the shock of it all. None of our other neighbors let me snoop around in their outbuildings. “Are you sure it’s okay for me to come over? I mean I’m just a little kid.”
“That kind of thinking never got anyone anywhere. I suspect you’re smarter than most adults that I know.” Pansy Rose straightened her back. “I need your opinion about something.”
“Sure.” I looked around, wondering if my mom had discovered my little disappearing act. “What do you need my opinion about?”
Pansy Rose nodded her head to her right. “It’s in the shed.”
I followed her across the backyard, and was just about to climb the first step of her outbuilding, when I heard my mom scream, “What are you doing with my daughter?”
I cringed. It took her longer than I expected, but her reaction was worse than I ever could have imagined. Mr. Baxter dropped his weed Wacker. Mrs. Baxter came running towards us, taking off her gardening gloves. “What’s wrong, Judy?”
“This woman is trying to lure my daughter into her shed.”
“I’m trying to get her opinion on my new sign. But since everyone decided to congregate in my backyard, I may as well let all of you have a look.” Pansy Rose reached through the door of her shed, then dragged out a huge, plywood sign. Pansy Rose’s Garden of Eden Street. “Well, ladies, what do y’all think?
My mom crossed her arms in front of her chest, looking very much like a judge. “What is that?”
“My new business sign.” Pansy Rose lifted her head, as a huge smile lit up her face. “Like it? I named it after the street we live on.”
“Cool,” I said.
“You are not going to set up a business in this neighborhood,” Mom declared.
“Why not?” Pansy Rose raised her hand. “There’s already five home businesses in this neighborhood. “Mrs. Baxter uses her living room for an accounting office.” Pansy Rose lifted one finger. “Jenkins Landscaping is behind me, on the next street.” She raised another finger. Finger number three was for Miss Tina’s home daycare center. “I saw a sign at the head of the cul-de-sac marking the location of Jones’ Plumbing.” With the lifting of her thumb, Pansy Rose counted to number five. “And you, Mrs. Joyner, don’t you do alterations inside your home?”
“Well?” Mom lowered her head, her face turning from red to crimson. “All that makes no difference. I’ll not stand for this retail store.”
“Stand, sit; do whatever you want.” Pansy Rose dragged the sign a few steps toward her front yard. “It makes no difference to me. You ladies have a nice day.”
Mom was fuming by now. I could tell because of the way her nostrils were flaring, reminding me of a mad bull about to charge its enemy. “Who does that woman think she is, coming here and destroying everything we hold near and dear?”
“I think she’s cool.” Oops. I should have kept that opinion to myself, because the next thing I knew, Mom had me by the wrist and was dragging me toward our house.
“When will you learn to keep that smart mouth shut?” she said, her vice-like grip still holding me hostage, when we entered the living room.
Dad was playing chess with Billy. “What’s wrong now, Judy?”
I found Robin consorting with the enemy.” Mom shoved me onto the couch. “Stay there, young lady, and don’t move until I tell you to.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, lowering my head to my lap.
“And don’t slump,” Mom ordered. “Your back will grow crooked, and your father and I will have to pay for a special brace.”
Somehow, I managed to slap my hand over my mouth before asking, “Are you sure a little slumping can cause all that damage?” But I didn’t say it out loud, so she couldn’t punish me for being disrespectful.
My dad’s brown eyes seemed to dance, as he shook his head in disagreement. Billy snickered.
As far as I was concerned, watching the chess match was more punishment than any kid deserved. But there I sat, thinking about Pansy Rose and her sign, while Dad and Billy played chess, and Mom called neighbor after neighbor, telling them about how Pansy Rose was going to destroy our neighborhood.
I mean, really? How much damage could one, small business do?
Weeks dragged by. I wasn’t allowed to speak to Pansy Rose, but that didn’t stop me from waving at her when my mom wasn’t around. Pansy Rose never waved back. She just lowered her head and kept on working. I felt like I had lost my best friend.
Then it happened. On a bright, sunny day, when only a cotton ball, fluffy clouds were in the sky; my dad dared to speak to Pansy Rose.
She had a cart loaded down with the most beautiful roses I had ever laid eyes on, and was moving them towards her front yard. The cart must have been pretty heavy, because she had both hands on the tongue and was walking backwards, using her weight to help move the load.
I was sitting on our front porch swing, drawing a picture of humming birds. My dad and Billy were in the front yard playing catch.
Dad dropped the ball. “Come on, Billy. It looks like Miss Gardener could use some help.”
“Mom will be pissed if she catches us over there.” Billy didn’t make much sense most of the time, but in this case, his warning was spot on.
“Who’s going to tell her?” Dad kept walking towards Pansy Rose. “She’s shopping.”
“Hi. I’m Ross Joyner and this is my son, Billy.” He glanced toward the porch where I sat. “I believe you know my daughter, Robin.”
“Yes.” Pansy Rose removed her gardening gloves and stuck out her hand. “Robin’s a good kid.”
I wanted to go over there so bad, my legs wouldn’t stay still. But if Mom caught me talking to Pansy Rose again, there was no telling what she might do.
“It’s too bad that Mrs. Joyner won’t allow her to come over here anymore. I could use some help setting up the store.”
“My wife and I are always telling the children that they should be more responsible. Would it be okay with you if Robin, Billy, and I lend a hand?”
I turned my head towards the sky and squeezed my eyes shut. “Please, God, let her say yes. Please, God, let her say yes.”
Pansy Rose winked. “As long as Mrs. Joyner is yelling at you and not me.”
“Deal.” Dad waved at me. “Come on over, Robin. Ms. Gardener needs some help.”
“Yey,” I screamed, while running over there. Before I could stop myself, I was hugging Pansy Rose around the waist. “I missed you so much.”
“Me too, little birdie.” She patted my shoulder. “Me too.”
“Let’s get started then.” My dad grabbed the wagon tongue. “Where do you want these?”
Hard work had never been so much fun. Even Billy didn’t complain that much. We had just finished setting up Pansy Rose’s display when my mom pulled into our driveway.
“What are you doing, Ross?” she screeched, from inside the car.
“Helping out our neighbor.” Dad hung Pansy Rose’s sign on the frame that she and I had made. I wondered why Pansy Rose never hung it up until now, but I figured that this was one of those adult things that I shouldn’t ask about. The wind made the sign swing back and forth like our porch swing was doing. I took that as a sign that God was pleased with us. “It’s the Christian thing to do,” Dad added.
“Robin Lynn Joyner,” Mom yelled, as if Dad’s words meant nothing. “I told you not to go over there anymore.”
“But Dad said--”
“I don’t care.” She left the car then stomped her way towards us. “You disobeyed me.”
“Stop this nonsense right now, Judy.”
Billy and I both stumbled back. Our eyes and mouth could do nothing but stay frozen in the form of round circles. I know this is the first time I ever heard Dad talk to Mom like this. And judging from Billy’s reaction, it was the first time he heard it too.
Pansy Rose lowered her head. “Mrs. Joyner is right, Mr. Joyner.”
“She is?” my dad asked, as my mom said, “I am?”
“Yes. I knew she told Robin not to come over here. But I let it happen anyway.” Pansy Rose picked up a potted plant and took it to my mother. “Please accept this along with my apologies, Mrs. Joyner. Please don’t punish the child for my misdeeds.”
I wanted to cry. Why did Mom have to be so suspicious of the rest of the world? If someone wasn’t a near carbon copy of herself, she automatically assumed there was something wrong with them. “But I wanted to come over here and help you,” I yelled. “I miss you.”
Pansy Rose set the plant at my mom’s feet, then came over to me. “Now, now, birdie. Disobeying your mother is a sign of disrespect. I can’t befriend anyone who disrespects others.”
I thought I saw her shoot my mom a dirty look, but I couldn’t be sure. “Yes, ma’am.” I dragged my sad body back to our porch.
In the weeks to come, Dad decided that our porch swing looked better facing the opposite direction. I spent as much time as I could sitting on it, watching people come and leave Pansy Rose’s Garden of Eden. I sketched her whenever Mom wasn’t watching.
Billy, who had never been told that he couldn’t go over there, took a sudden interest in Pansy Rose’s business. So much so, that she gave him a job helping people load their purchases into their cars.
That didn’t stop Mom from trying to shut Pansy Rose down. She made phone call after phone call. I ran up to my room and did my happy dance, as every answer from the powers that be, was the same. “Our neighborhood is zoned commercial/residential.” There wasn’t anything they could do.
Mom never did accept Pansy Rose’s apology or her plant. So Dad set it on our front porch, next to the swing. Billy told me what Pansy Rose said about taking care of it, and I followed her directions to the letter. No way was I going to let Pansy Rose’s rose die from neglect. To do that seemed like murder to me. Murder is a sin. Sinners go to Hell. I hoped my mom wouldn’t end up in Hell for hating Pansy Rose.
It took a little while, but more and more of our neighbors started going to Pansy Rose’s business. So much so, that she hired my friend, Tammy to run the cash register. It wasn’t fair. Tammy got paid thirty dollars for working on Saturdays, while I would have helped Pansy Rose for nothing.
“Why can’t I go over to Pansy Rose’s?” I begged, after Tammy showed me the new bicycle she bought with the money she earned from Pansy Rose.
“Because.” Mom set the dinner table. “I don’t want her in our neighborhood, and I don’t want you socializing with her.”
“She’s not our kind of people.”
I was so angry, at that moment, I could have smashed the dishes. “You let Billy go over there.”
My mother stopped working long enough to lower herself until we were the same height. “When you and your brother started getting older, your father and I agreed that I would make all the important decisions concerning you, and he would decide what’s best for Billy.”
“That’s not fair,” I screamed. “I know what’s best for me.”
“You only think you do.” My mother took a casserole out of the oven. “This subject is no longer open for discussion.”
I hated my mom for the way she treated Pansy Rose. I hated her for not letting me go over to Pansy Rose’s house. “Mom--”
“I said, the subject is no longer open for discussion, Robin.”
Mom and I didn’t speak to each other for weeks after that. More and more of her friends were accepting Pansy Rose into the community. Mom gave up on forcing Pansy Rose to close her shop. She hardly went anywhere except for work and home, making only short trips to the grocery store whenever necessary.
I should have felt sorry for her, but she kept me from my friend, so I felt justified by not feeling it. Mom brought this on herself.
Something woke me up too early one morning. It wasn’t a loud noise, more like hushed whispers and crying. I slowly crept downstairs to where the sounds were coming from.
“I had no idea,” Mom cried, as Dad held her in his arms. “I only wanted what’s best for Robin.”
My sketches were scattered all over the kitchen table.
“I know.” Dad stroked Mom’s hair. “But in worrying about Robin, you caged her.”
“What have I done, Ross?”
“You made a mistake in judgement, Judy.” Dad stroked Mom’s cheek. “It’s going to be okay.”
Something inside me broke. Tears blurred my vision. I didn’t want to be mad at Mom anymore. I didn’t want her to be mad at me. I raced to her and wrapped my arms around her waist. I told her the only thing that made sense to me. “I’m sorry, Mommy.”
“No, Robin.” Mom stroked my matted hair. “It’s me who should be sorry.”
Mom and I went to the big plant nursery, downtown, that morning. Mom said she was looking for something really special. I assured her that whatever she was looking for, Pansy Rose was sure to have it, but she wouldn’t listen.
When we got home, instead of going into our house, my mom went to Pansy Rose’s Garden of Eden Street.
“Mrs. Joyner.” Pansy Rose set down a stack of planters. “What can I do for you?”
“You can accept the apologies of a fool.” This time, my mom’s smile was genuine. I could tell because her eyes sparkled the way they did when she looked at Daddy. “And this.” She picked up the special thing that only the big nursery had.
“Oh my.” Pansy Rose lifted the potted plant. “It’s a blue rose. Where ever did you get it?”
“You like it?” my mom asked.
“Like it?” Pansy Rose’s face seemed so peaceful, as she inhaled the rose’s sweet fragrance. “I never thought I’d see one. It’s the rarest of roses.”
“No.” My mom braced her arms against Pansy Rose’s shoulders. “The rarest of roses is you.”
“Thank you.” Pansy Rose hugged the blue rose. “I’ll use this little fella as an inspiration to breed my own line of blue and black roses. With your permission, I would like to name the most perfect of these Robin.”
I beamed. Then mom did something to totally took me by surprise.
“Then I suppose Robin should spend some time with you.” Her eyes darted between me and Pansy Rose. “If you ladies still want to be friends.”
“Do we?” I cut my happy dance short. “Do you, Pansy Rose?”
“Only if Mrs. Joyner comes over every once in a while for coffee.”
“It’s Judy,” said Mom. “And only if you agree to come over for dinner tonight.”
Pansy Rose’s Garden of Eden Street turned our neighborhood into a real Garden of Eden. From that day, I became happier than I had ever been in my life, went on to study horticulture. Pansy Rose and Mom are still friends. And Pansy Rose’s Garden of Eden Street? It’s now being run by Pansy Rose’s son, Otto. No more cookie cutter neighborhood here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, LF GILLIS.
LF Gillis is a writer and novelist who is deeply connected to the great outdoors and nature. You will experience small-town southern states of American life through this author's beautiful writing. The most amazing thing is the way the characters in a Gillis novel interact, and the author's gift for showing the full depth of their feelings. The stories below are gripping and inspirational reads that I would highly recommend.
NOVELS BY LF GILLIS