My grandmother carries a machete.
Really, it isn’t anything cool or exciting. She doesn’t fight crime or monsters. It’s just a gardening tool. And once you see the garden you realize what she really needs is napalm.
The garden of terror that requires a machete to hack your way to the center of started life as a discreet herb garden on the side yard of the house. It’s older than my grandmother, planted by some pioneering ancestor with more enthusiasm than gardening skill.
Planted by someone who didn’t realize that those small plants in tidy rows would grow so that the rosemary now resembles a small tree and the parsley is dense enough that small tribes of toddlers have been lost in there.
Perhaps the planter thought the Texas heat would be enough to keep the garden from taking on a life of its own.
Certainly it’s a theory that works for the rest of Texas. The easiest way to kill a plant is leave it outside during the month of August and wait for the plant to shoot itself in despair. Even cacti wither and die under the unrelenting heat of the Texas sun.
But not in grandma’s garden.
You can ignore the garden, walk away for months at a time, leave it unwatered for years, drop weed killer on it, curse it, exorcise it, even burn incense over it and yet the garden grows.
My great-grandmother tried giving the plants away. She uprooted the mint and gave it away to everyone who made eye contact. During the worst of Texas droughts you can tell who has the monster mint.
The media dubbed it the “Glenwood Mint”. The scientists at Texas A&M are still studying rogue clippings trying to determine how a plant can live with four inch roots and no water for two years.
That’s why Grandma needs the machete.
Every spring, around about March, she pulls the polished weapon from the cupboard over the washing machine, dons her gardening gloves and sandals, and marches into the backyard to see what damage has been done.
This year was different.
She sat in her rocking chair on March second, a tear in her eye as she watched the snapdragons bloom along the front walk. “I can’t do it this year,” she whispered to me. She raised a papery hand, set it on my knee. “Jenny. Go get the machete. It’s your turn.”
With a sense of impending doom I walked into the mudroom. I pulled on the gloves and the sandals. I pulled the machete from its case, put my cell phone in my pocket in case I needed to call for back up, and marched into the living room and out the back door.
“Grandma! There are tomatoes!”
Grandma moved with blazing speed to peer over my shoulder. “Good googlymoogly,” she breathes. “I forgot about them.”
“We haven’t planted tomatoes in two years!” I choke back fear. Four lush plants sit with their red fruit tempting the sinner like the apple in Eden.
“Get the pots!”
There are four burners on the stove, each large enough to hold a twenty-two gallon stockpot. We have two slow cookers, and each can hold sixteen gallons. I plunder the tomato orchard; the abandoned plants have grown well over six feet tall, they droop with heavy fruit, and spring upright as I pull the tomatoes away.
Stuffing the tomatoes into pots, and piling the excess on the long kitchen counter, my grandmother pours water over each set and turns on the heat. “Get garlic,” she orders. “You’ll find it behind the roses.”
I shudder, grab the machete, and stalk into the herb garden of terror.
The rosemary bush towers over me, a fragrant giant. Thick stalks of parsley reach to my knees. And all I can smell is the mint.
In the far corner I see the rambling roses that cascade over the front fence in a shower of red and pale pink. Beneath those roses the fresh garlic grows. I heft the machete in my hand. With grim determination I set out, hacking, slashing, pruning with fervor that is nigh on religious.
I bring the slaughter to Grandma: rosemary twigs as long as my arm, bunches of parsley, enough oregano to stuff a piñata, garlic, wild onions that I found tucked in a corner next to the lavender.
“Tell your cousins to bring garlic bread,” Grandma instructs as she stirs the six pots, tasting, testing, and adjusting the flavors until they are perfect. “Call the in-laws, we need extra noodles!”
I go back to the garden to trim yellowed leaves that have never seen sunlight. I slip on fresh loam; my cell phone flies. I scream as my cell phone slips between the thorny canes of the roses, another casualty of the garden of terror. From my prone position I see a miracle.
“Grandma! Basil!” I hold the aromatic leaves up for her perusal.
“The mint must have insulated them from the snow this winter.” She rubbed the leaves between her fingers, releasing the scent like a lover’s perfume. “Perfect.”
The next day, as rosy-fingered dawn reaches out to her fleeing love, I roll out of bed and reach for the machete.
My machete. I have a cell phone to save and a legacy to keep. The garden must be tamed.
“Holler if you find a body!” Grandma calls.
I walk out the door.
I carry a machete.