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I’m finding it a little more difficult than usual to bang out this week’s column because my hand and forearm are smarting after I got stung by a swarm of wasps this past Sunday.
Here’s what happened: I worked myself into a tizzy worrying about my house back in South Carolina, so I decided to drive up and check on it in person, just to give myself some peace of mind. When I got there, I walked up to my front porch, exactly the way I did when I lived there, and pulled open the storm door, as had been my routine.
There was no way I could have seen the nest the wasps had built below the screen, but they didn’t know that. No sooner did I swing the door open than the wasps attacked.
I reacted as furiously as they did. First I swore, then I grabbed the nest with my bare hand, yanked it off the door and threw it out into the yard.
The nest had been bigger than my hand — or at least it was before my right hand swelled. I counted at least five welts later that evening. Fortunately, I’m not allergic to bee stings. Unfortunately, I’m right-handed.
I realize now, after describing the ordeal to my best friend Tracy, parents and co-workers, the reasonable response would have been to scream and then run. But in the heat of the moment (pun intended) I got mad.
I was automatically aggravated when I stepped out of my car into the yard and seconds later had sweat droplets running into my eyes.
I remembered how three summers ago, on a triple-digit temperature weekend like this past one back in the Pee Dee, I would have been out there in the yard, stubbornly pushing my lawnmower across my modest half-acre, weeding my little garden and edging my amateur landscaping, dashing into the kitchen every so often for some water and air-conditioned relief, while my four cats supervised safely from their window perches indoors.
I thought about how the first cold beer I enjoyed after I finished my work and collapsed on that front porch was the very best beer in the world, no matter what brand it was, and how I would watch the sun go down, feel the air cool off and watch the stars light up the night until the mosquitoes finally drove me into the house for the remainder of the day.
I’d regularly poured blood, sweat and tears — probably all in equal amounts during the summer — into my old house to make it my home. Now here it was, vacant, with little to show for my hard work, and I was angry.
I walked around the property where over the course of eight years I’d painstakingly planted spirea, wisteria, Leyland cypress, azaleas, tea olive, jasmine, candytuft, crape myrtles, fruit trees, dianthus, roses, pachysandra from roots my parents had brought to North Carolina from my grandparents’ yard back in Ohio, and countless other flowers and herbs, including two rosemary bushes.
Someone had dug out one of the rosemary bushes, but its partner was still there — full, thick and fragrant. The pachysandra had formed a dense carpet along the front foundation of the house, the crape myrtles were crowned with lavender blossoms and the roses were in bloom above the tiny pink dianthus lurking in their shadow. They managed to carry on without me, and the thought made me happy.
In that instant, I glanced toward the patio door where my sweet kitty Liadan used to bask in the sun and could have sworn I saw her press her little nose against the glass to greet me. Then I looked back at where my garden used to be, saw it enveloped in weeds, and felt like I’d been slapped across the face: My garden was gone, my Lia was dead and I didn’t live here anymore. The realization stunned me worse than those stupid wasps did minutes later.
I didn’t linger at my old house, only long enough to satisfy the curiosity that prompted me to drive there in the first place and to stir up those wonderful and bittersweet memories. I’m sure I won’t have to drive to South Carolina to retrieve them again.
Besides, I can feel Lia’s spirit keeping her brothers, sister and me company here at home where my heart is.
Jackie Torok is managing editor of the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or firstname.lastname@example.org.