Write of Way by Mary Lou Sanelli

Thursday, April 02, 2015 6:10 PM | Debbi Lester (Administrator)


For as long as I can remember having known her, I’ve been wanting to write about Clara. I’ve been putting it off for nearly a decade because, for one thing, my fondest memory of her has to do with watering my vegetable garden. And I haven’t watered a vegetable garden in far too long.

But also, I just didn’t want to write a story about Clara that she could actually read. Clara was a very private person.

To boil it down, my husband and I used to rent a cabin from Clara on her farmland, better known in Sequim as The Old Rhodefer Farm. One month we came up short of cash and Clara suggested we paint the cabin in lieu of rent.

About a week later, with the scaffolding strewn all over the yard, Larry and I stood staring at our freshly-painted home, Clara joining us for once. But I noticed she kept looking down at my garden instead of at the cabin. Placing her hands on her hips, she looked directly at my pole beans and said, “Well, from here they don’t look that bad.”

How many people would say such a thing?

Sure, she’d pretty much ignored us until then. Sure, she’d lived in the main house for eighty years and felt she should have a say in what goes on next door, even what kind of beans I should plant. But it was nothing compared to the approval I felt when she finally walked over to stand with us. I felt our out-of-town-ness was finally being accepted. That we were finally being accepted.

I stepped closer to her.

She looked at me crossly. “Mary Lou, there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

“Really? What’s that?” I braced myself. Larry put his hand on my shoulder.

“You should water your garden in the morning.”

I smiled. But not grudgingly.

“While the ground is still cool so the roots can handle the cold water.”

Was it true?

Somehow it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she wanted to share her lifelong knowledge, and it endeared her to me.

I said, “But I always thought it was better to water in the evening after the sun goes down, so ..."I had to think for a minute, "so the water doesn’t evaporate in the heat of the day.”

“No, the cold water distresses the roots when they’re still warm from the sun.”

Farming know-how has been in Clara’s family since Seattle was a logging camp, and everyone has a desire to share what they know with someone who’ll listen. So that’s what I did.

Larry hmmed. I could tell he wasn’t convinced.

But I was happy to take her advice. And use it. “Thank you,” I said.

As instructed, the next morning I watered first thing.

“You’ve been Clara-fied,” Larry said.

Sometimes I’d lift the hose over my head to reach Clara’s vegetables. When the spray hit, it made a splattering sound and I’d adjust the nozzle until there was a softer mist. I’d look up and see Clara reading the Gazette at her kitchen table.

I remember telling Larry that I didn’t want the watering to feel like a chore I had to hurry through, “like cleaning the bathroom,” I said.

“So don’t hurry,” he said, in the way men do when they sense a reflective conversation coming on ten minutes before, say, kickoff.

But I didn’t read anything into his clipped answer. I knew it had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that the scaffolding was still scattered about and Clara was about to crackdown.

Neighbors can teach you a lot.

Watering is a great way to start the day. The best.

Mary Lou Sanelli

Sanelli’s newest title, A Woman Writing (What Writing About Writing Taught Me About Determination, Persistence, and the Ups and Downs of Choosing A Writing Life) is forthcoming in September. For information, visit www.marylousanelli.com

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