Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Alaiah’s Memory Garden

Alaiah held her hair to her head so her curls wouldn’t poke out from beyond the doorframe.  Some nights, before she would fall asleep, she heard Momma crying.  Momma sat at the kitchen table holding her head rubbing her fingers on her scalp.  On the table sat a pile of folded papers and envelopes.
       “Momma, why are you crying,” Alaiah asked, creeping from behind the doorway. 
       Wiping her eyes and nose, Momma answered, “Oh, Alaiah, honey, it’s nothing you need to bother yourself with.  Go on back to bed.  Larry and I will take care of everything.” 
       Alaiah leaned real close to Momma’s face and peered closely into her eyes.  Momma laughed, shoeing her away.  Alaiah, gave her a big hug and kiss on the cheek and ran back to her bedroom.  Tonight was a school night. 
       Alaiah woke up tired.  Momma and Larry got married last summer.  Larry tilled the dirt to help Alaiah start her first garden.  After that, Alaiah created the garden with the help of her two best buddies, Mali and Ruth.  Mali gave three pepper plants from her mom’s garden, one spicy and two sweet.  Ruth’s dad had an extra Best Boy tomato plant.  Mr. Gordon had the best flower garden in the neighborhood.  The three girls knocked on his door and offered to weed his garden for the whole summer in exchange for some bulbs and seeds.  Mr. Gordon thought that was a fair trade.  He let them pick out purple and white Irises and bright orange daylilies.  At the end of summer he gave Alaiah some seeds from his columbines and bachelor buttons.  
       “They will come back year after year,” he explained. 
       Larry used to leave for work before Alaiah had breakfast.  Lately, when she walked to the bus stop, she noticed his truck parked in the driveway.  It was there this morning.
       “Hey, Alaiah, you want me to give you a ride this morning instead of riding the bus?”
       Alaiah quickly turned and stared for a moment, “Oh, Hi Larry, you surprised me.  Sure!”
       Her curls and backpack bounced back and forth as she bounded up the driveway and hopped into Larry’s pickup. 
       “Remember by Mom, Ms. Cora?” Larry asked her as he turned the key in the ignition.
       “Yes," Alaiah replied.
       “She’s been having a hard time without Pop.  Work has been real slow for me.  Your mom and I talked.  We think we all ought to move in with Ms. Cora.  It would be good for everyone because there is more than enough work down there for me, and your Momma could help Ms. Cora around the house.  Plus there is a great big attic room perfect for you,” Larry explained.
       As they pulled in front of the school door, Alaiah was looking down, playing with the strap on her backpack.  “I’ve always lived here,” she mumbled then she slid out of the truck and ran into the school. 
      With her mouth full of bologna and cheese, Ruth asked, “What is wrong with you?  You act like you are sleepwalking today.” 
       “We are moving about a hundred miles away to go live with Larry’s mom,” Alaiah explained without even looking up from her lunch tray.
       Mali gasped, “No way!”
       “Yes," Alaiah turned to Mali, then to Ruth, "Momma’s been crying cause bills are piling up and Larry has been just working around the house.  They think it would be better for everyone because Ms. Cora is sad.  She is Larry's mom.  She is like my grandma.”
       Ruth was nearly in tears.  “You can’t move!  What will happen to your garden?”  
       “You guys, I don’t want to talk about it.  I’m going to start crying and it is only lunch period.  We still have math class and music to get through,” Alaiah groaned.
       Later at dinner, Alaiah and Momma stared at each other as they chewed their pork roast and carrot stew.
        “You know, I’m going to get homesick, too,” Momma blurted.
       Alaiah looked down at her plate.  “May I be excused?  I’m not so hungry tonight,” she whispered.
       “Go ahead,” Momma answered waving her hand.
       No amount of fanning her eyes would make those hot tears stop falling. “Oh, I’ve got to stop these tears before Momma and Larry go to bed.  Momma has enough to worry about without me adding to it,” Alaiya said clenching her fists into her pillow. 
       She tiptoed across the hallway to the bathroom.  She splashed cold water against her puffy face.  Her eyes were still tiny and her nose and cheeks were red and streaked from tears.  Then a smile lifted her cheeks.
       “When you come to see me, I want you to turn that weed patch into a garden just as splendid as the one I hear your Momma and Larry brag about,” Ms. Cora told her over the phone a couple months ago. 
       Mrs. Cora wanted a garden.  Alaiah learned how to share a garden from all her friends who helped make her garden spectacular by splitting their bulbs and saving their seeds.  She was still smiling as she crawled back under the covers.
       Ralphie, the neighbor’s dog started barking and Alaiah knew Momma and Larry arrived with the U-Haul.  She stood up from sitting on the back stairs.  Holding her grocery bags of seeds and bulbs, she walked over to the three boxes of her belongings, and gently tucked them inside the one on top.  Now, she knew, even though her friends would be far away, she would have living reminders of them.