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Flowers in My Toilet
By Michelle Rene
One of my earliest memories involves going to see my great grandmother. For whatever reason, we never went to the front door of anyone’s house, so we opened the back gate and went inside the yard. It was then that I came face to face the most colossal flowers I'd ever seen. They loomed over me, and I was entranced like Alice in Wonderland in the giant garden. Huge sunflowers bowed their petaled heads over mine like they were trying to whisper secrets in my ear. When I followed their stems all the way down, I realized they were growing out of a toilet.
My tiny toddler brain couldn't take the hilarity, and I laughed myself silly right there on the ground next to a toilet. They had to pick me up and drag me inside, still giggling away.
Perhaps I should provide a little back story.
My great grandfather had owned a plumbing company after the war, and somehow he supported his family of nine children with his hard work. He and my great grandmother were practical survivors of the Great Depression before his plumbing business. They didn’t even have a honeymoon. Just got up the day after their wedding and went out to pick cotton to earn a living. So when someone needed a toilet replaced, he kept the broken one... like you do.
A broken toilet couldn’t be used as God intended anymore, so his wife would line them up in the garden out back. She used them as flower pots, and she was a talented gardener. So that means, you guessed it, the whole backyard was filled with flowery toilets. Not just the toilet bowls either. The top commode part was used for herb gardens and the like. You haven’t lived until your’ve had red beans and rice garnished with green commode onions.
At the time, I thought my great grandmother had to be the funniest woman ever after that. Come on, a woman who has toilet flowers in her backyard? That’s hilarious. The problem was she didn't talk much and when she did, it wasn't very funny. She rarely even smiled. I guess that’s what happens when you have nine children. They suck the smiles out of you.
When I asked my mom about it, she said that Grandma Tucker wasn't a funny woman, she was a strong woman. The strongest, toughest woman she ever knew.
"How come?" I asked in perfect kid grammar.
"She's tough as nails. You just watch her. When we were little, Grandma had a pony she kept in the garage. It was a mean pony and it tried to bite us. Grandma had to hit it with a two by four to get it to move so we could ride it. She’s the strongest woman I know.”
Let me go over the essence of that anecdote.
My great grandmother had a pony and kept it in a garage. She didn't live in the country. This was in town. Granted, the garage was probably more like a fenced car port with a dirt floor at the time, but still. She kept a pony, who she hit with large bits of wood occasionally, in a garage so it could randomly bite her grandchildren. I hope that’s painting an appropriate picture.
So yeah, maybe she wasn’t funny. Even though toilet flowers and biting ponies sounded like ridiculous things to laugh at, she never found them funny. That was just life to her.
One day, we were at my Grandma Tucker’s house, running around the backyard full of toilet flowers, when I saw firsthand what this tiny woman was made of. My cousin and I were playing on the ancient swing set she had for us. I use the word "playing" loosely. We were more skipping around and swinging on the parts of the swing set that were still there. Most of the plastic of the swing seats had broken or rotted away. One swing was still pretty good but there was a giant crack in it, and it would pinch your thigh, so you had to use the chains to hover your rump just out of pinching range. There was still a slide that was mostly intact, but you did have to be careful not to cut yourself on the rusted out places.
We were all pretty up to date on our tetanus boosters, so we played away. When it was time to eat, out came Grandma Tucker with a plate of bologna sandwiches. My cousin and I jumped off the playground and ran to join her at the picnic table. When we got there, we spotted the wasps. Several of them buzzed around my great grandmother, and we froze in place, afraid to move and be consumed with fiery pain.
"Here's your lunch," she said completely unfazed by the swarm.
We stood still and bug-eyed, afraid to move. Scary insects were not unknown to us. This was Texas after all, but even the dumbest child knows better than to willingly waltz into a swarm of angry wasps.
"What?" she asked, looking around her. "Oh them. Just wasps. There's a nest below the table."
She sat down heavily on the bench and took a sandwich to show us it was okay. Grandma took a bite in the casual sort of way one does on a pleasant, wasp-free afternoon.
I got on my hands and knees to peek under the rotting wood, wondering why she just didn't kill the wasps and knock off their nest like we did at home. When I looked under the table, it was more than one nest, it was a wasp metropolitan area. I was sure they would establish a mass transit system any day. One wasp commune was picketing for universal wasp healthcare. This had been years of unchecked wasp construction. They were probably only a few years away from having their own seat at the U.N.
Grandma Tucker looked at us annoyed and slammed her hand down on the table hard. She picked up her hand to show the sticky remnants of a giant wasp on it. This tiny, old woman swatted a wasp with her bare hand right in front of us. Without regard for the fact she could be stung all over, she executed another wasp barehanded. The wasps began to buzz angrily around her. She must have killed a wasp ambassador or something because they were angry. Grandma didn’t seem to care and kept right on chewing.
We took our sandwiches and ran inside, too cowardly to stay. As kids, you want to be brave, but our bellies were completely yellow that day. I'll never forget the way she looked as we left.
Grandma sat on the bench of the picnic table, eating a sandwich, with giant insects angrily dive bombing her head. A whole city of wasps stirred and buzzed under her legs. The sun was setting, illuminating the toilet garden around her in a golden glow. She truly was a modern artist without knowing it. Her toilet garden instillation with a myriad of flowers added the backdrop to what must have been an almost religious scene of serenity and forthcoming carnage.
Grandma Tucker, the patron saint of toilet flowers, destroyer of all things that sting and beater of garage ponies.
I thought about toughness, and I thought about funny things, and I thought about Grandma who never smiled as we tucked tail and fled. My mother stopped me half way up the ramp to the main house, looking concerned.
“Why aren’t you eating with Grandma?”
I met my mother’s eyes, trying form my reason with my limited eight-year-old vocabulary. How does one describe the nuances of emotion when coming face to face with a creature such as Grandma Tucker during her impromptu wasp massacre? What words could describe the admiration and fear when faced with the Goddess of Toilet Flowers?
“Mom, that’s the craziest damn woman I’ve ever met.”