“I do not like it.”
Snick, snick, snick! went the pruning shears in Mrs. Lureen Ann LaClette’s gloved hand.
“Well, Momma, you don’t have to like it,” Ruby said with a sigh. “Because it’s happening whether you like it or not.”
Snick, snick, snick! was the response.
“I just do not see how he can do this to me,” Lureen heaved dramatically, wiping nonexistent sweat from her brow with the back of her glove.
“He’s not doing it to you, Momma. He loves her. He wants us to meet her. I think…,” Ruby hesitated. “I think he’s gonna marry her.”
Lureen whirled around mid-snick! “He will do no such thing!” She panted. Turning back to the rose bush, she freed the fallen stem she’d left hanging half-trimmed with another loud snick! and placed it in the top of the large basket on her arm before moving to the next bush.
“Momma, what exactly is your objection to her, anyway?” Ruby asked hesitantly, fearing the next thing to get deadheaded in the garden would be her.
“She’s just…” Lureen spluttered as she went at the next bush with the shears like an angry badger after a piece of good wood. “She’s not like us.”
Lureen looked at her daughter in exasperation. “We do not know this girl. She is not from around her. Who are her parents? What do they do? You know she’s not even Baptist? Your brother is bringing home a Catholic girl, Ruby Mae. A Catholic.” Lureen spit this last bit like the very word left a foul taste in her mouth, attacking the bush renewed vengeance.
“First of all, she’s not Catholic. She’s Lutheran.”
“As if, that makes a difference,” Lureen muttered.
“Well,” Ruby said evenly, “I suspect it does to the Lutherans.” Lureen shot Ruby a traitorous look, but Ruby ignored her. “Secondly, of course she’s not from around here. He went to school over a thousand miles away. Did you really expect that when he met someone they would come from a family down the block?”
“I don’t know what I expected,” her mother huffed, moving across the broad walk to the next section of the garden where she began to maim her fourth flower bed of the afternoon.
Lureen Ann LaClette’s prize winning roses were legendary in Meridian, Mississippi, and her garden was her pride and joy, having won every floral and landscaping distinction in the state, including an unprecedented three straight titles as Reine de Roses from the Ladies Auxiliary of the Lauderdale County Beautification Society. The fact that Lureen had cut more flowers in one afternoon than she probably did in the previous month was a true testament to how much Jonah’s announcement he was bringing a guest home to meet the family had shaken her, and Lureen Ann LaClette was not a woman whose feathers were easily ruffled. Lureen prided herself on being as perfect a representation of good Southern breeding as her roses, and she’d raised Ruby and Jonah to follow in her elegant footsteps.
Ruby suspected she knew what was really bothering her mother, but she didn’t want to be the one to bring it up, so she quietly watch as her mother went on massacring the rose bushes. Perching primly on the edge of the wrought iron bench nearby, Ruby examined her nails and waited. She knew eventually Lureen would work herself up into a tizzy and confess all, no matter how indelicate, and it was better that happen before Jonah and his girlfriend arrived. In fact, Ruby felt confident that in approximately three-two-one—
“And,” her mother spun around to face Ruby, pruning shears waving wildly, “she’s going to be an architect!”
Ruby stifled a smile. “What’s wrong with that?”
“What kind of girl wants to be an architect?” Lureen demanded, pointing the shears at Ruby for emphasis. “And not wants, dreams! Jonah said she’d always dreamed of being an architect! What kind of little girl dreams of being an architect instead of a princess or a ballerina?”
“One that wants to build things?” Ruby asked blandly and her mother narrowed her eyes in response. “So she wants to be an architect. Momma, who cares? She’s educated and she’ll have a good job. “
“Which means I’ll never get any grandchildren.”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “Momma, that is the craziest thing you have said yet.”
“No, it is not,” Lureen threw down the shears in a huff, and they stuck in the ground blade down perilously close to her shoe. Lureen didn’t notice. “Girls with career don’t want to be mothers. They’re making their husbands stay home. I saw it on The View.”
“Don’t you think you should wait until you meet her before you decide if she’s good enough to be the mother of your grandchildren?”
“I don’t have to meet her, Ruby Mae,” Lureen wailed, hand pressed over her heart in true Scarlett O’Hara fashion. “A mother just knows.”
Lureen flung herself down on the bench next to Ruby as if the weight of her burden were too much to bear any longer. “I just don’t know,” she heaved wearily, looking at Ruby from the corner of her eye to make sure her daughter was watching, “what I did to deserve this.” Lureen rolled her eyes heavenward as if accusing God himself of personal betrayal.
“Momma,” Ruby said, trying to hide her exasperation, “why don’t you just say what’s really bothering you?” Lureen responded with an innocent, questioning look. “You don’t like where she grew up, do you?”
“Ruby Mae!” Her mother said, glancing around as if someone might hear them. “How can you say such a thing?”
“Alright, fine,” Lureen replied. “You’re right. I’m sorry. I know it’s old-fashioned, but that is how I was raised. I just never expected that when your brother finally brought someone home to meet the family he’d be bringing – a Yankee.” Lureen whispered this last bit as though it was a dirty word and deadly disease all in one.
“Jesus Christ, Momma—"
“Ruby Mae LaClette!” If Lureen could make herself pass out for dramatic effect, this would have been the moment.
“I’m sorry, Momma. I’m sorry. I apologize, Lord, for taking your name in vein,” Ruby said grumpily, but her mother continued to look thoroughly scandalized. “It is two thousand and eleven. Two THOUSAND and eleven. Being born north of the Mason-Dixon line is not a crime. It never was. I love you, but if that is what is really bothering you, you have to get over it.” Ruby looked at her watch. “By my count, you’ve got about ten minutes.”
Ruby stood up to leave, feeling she’d done her part to spare her brother and his girlfriend the brunt of her mother’s theatrics, for which Ruby felt her brother owed her greatly.
“That’s not the reason,” her mother said softly, and Ruby looked down in surprise. Lureen Ann LaClette, who had not cried even at her own mother’s funeral two months earlier, had tears in her eyes.
“Then what is it?” Ruby narrowed her eyes, expecting her mother to come up with some last ditch crazy reason to dislike a girl Ruby suspected was probably very nice if Jonah thought enough of her to bring her all the way from Chicago.
“What did I do wrong?” Her mother sniffed, gazing forlornly at her gloved hands. “If that’s the kind of girl your brother wants to spend his life with, then what must he think of me?”
Of all the possible ways Ruby had expected Lureen to make this all about her, this had not been anywhere on the list. “What do you mean, Momma? Jonah loves you. We both do.”
“I know that, Ruby Mae,” her mother said as Ruby took her seat on the bench again. “I know you love me. I just worry your brother may not…like me very much. Or maybe his friend won’t.” Ruby opened her mouth to protest, and Lureen shook her head as she pulled off her gloves wearily. “I didn’t go to college. I never worked. I never left this house, except to take you and Jonah to school and your lessons."
“And we appreciate it, Momma,” Ruby said, taking her mother’s hand in her smaller ones.
“I know, Baby,” Lureen patted Ruby’s hand. “I know you do. But I’ve spent my whole life being a wife and a mother. I’m proud of the job I did raising you kids with your daddy gone for work all the time. But I’m an old woman now. You kids are grown. And all I’ve got to show for my life is this big empty house and my roses.” Lureen looked down at the basket, only now registering with horror the amount of stems she’d cut.
“Momma,” Ruby said, squeezing her mother’s hand to draw her attention away from the flowers. One crisis at a time, Ruby thought. “Just because Jonah may someday marry a girl who wants to work and have a career doesn’t mean we don’t realize how lucky we are to have had a mother as dedicated as you. And we're not for sure that Jonah’s marrying her.”
“He’s bringing her home,” Lureen said plaintively and Ruby sighed in response. “I just don’t know what I could possibly have to say to a girl like that, Ruby Mae.”
“Just be nice, Momma.” Ruby patted her mother’s hand. “That’s all Jonah wants.”
“I’ll try,” Lureen said with all the enthusiasm of a kid on the way to the dentist.
“Momma?” a male voice called from inside the house. “You out here?”
“Well, try harder,” Ruby hissed to her mother, standing. “Because here they come.”
A tall athletic boy strode into the middle of the garden, followed by an equally tall, willowy girl with long brown hair walking uncertainly behind him. She carried her large purse carefully with both hands, as though trying to protect the contents from being squashed or damaged.
“Jonah!” Ruby exclaimed, throwing her arms around her brother to cover her mother’s slowness to greet them. “And you must be Emily. I’m Ruby, Jonah’s beautiful and talented sister. I’m sure he’s told you all about me.”
Jonah smirked. “About how you can’t carry a tune in a bucket and constantly trip over your own two feet?”
Ruby slugged him good-naturedly in the shoulder. “Lies,” she whispered to Emily.
“Hey Momma,” Jonah said, stepping around Emily to hug his mother.
“Oh, my baby boy’s come home!” Lureen cawed, hugging him tight in her thick arms and swinging them both back and forth. Jonah extracted himself from the prolonged hug, and took a step back.
“Momma,” he placed a hand on the small of the girl’s back and pushed her forward, “this is Emily Smythe-Owens.”
“Momma,” he placed a hand on the small of the girl’s back and pushed her forward, “this is Emily Smythe-Owens.”
“It is nice to meet you, Mrs. LaClette,” Emily said, shyly extending her hand.
Lureen hesitated, and Ruby gave her mother a sharp look, then looked pointedly at Emily’s hand.
Lureen seized it with an energy that was just a little too rich to be genuine. “It’s nice to meet you…Emily. I hope you’ll enjoy staying with us.” Ruby frowned behind Jonah’s back, but Jonah didn’t seem to notice.
“Momma, do you have any empty pots?” Jonah asked. “And some soil?”
Lureen shot him a perplex look. “Of course, Sugar. What size do you need?” Lureen turned toward the small storage shed in the corner of the sprawling yard where she stored various gardening implements and supplies.
“Something small,” Emily said, reaching into her large purse and pulling out a crepe myrtle clipping, which had a plastic baggie full of water rubber-banded tightly to the bottom. “I want to pot this clipping and see if I can get it to root. We don’t have crepe myrtles at home and it’s hard to get it to grow in our climate, but I’m hoping I can get it big enough to transplant in a pot back at school and then give it to my mother for the holidays.”
If Ruby was stunned, you could have knocked Lureen over with a feather. “Do you like flowers, Emily?” Ruby asked with eager interest.
“Of course she does!” Jonah hooted. “What would you expect from someone who’s studying to be a landscape architect?”
“A landscape architect?” Ruby raised an eyebrow at her mother, who looked equally surprised.
Emily nodded. “I've loved plants and flowers since I was a little girl. I’m hoping to design public parks and botanical gardens someday like Beatrix Farrand.” Emily squinted in the direction of one of the rose beds. “Are those hybrid teas? I don’t think I recognize all these varieties.”
Jonah smiled at the girl, and his eyes glowed with affection. “My momma has the best roses in all of Mississippi.” He turned toward Lureen, and look he gave her was equally admiring. “Don’t you, Momma?”
Lureen Ann LeClette glowed positively pink with pride. “I don’t know about all that,” she demurred with obviously false modesty.
“Darlin’, it would be my pleasure,” Lureen said sincerely as she took Emily by the arm and began leading her around the enormous backyard.
Ruby collapsed onto the bench in relief as soon as their backs were turned.
“What’s your problem?” Jonah inquired, taking the seat next to her.
“Never mind,” Ruby said to her brother as she threw her arm across her face. Going twelve rounds with her mother always wore Ruby out. “Turned out to be nothing.”
Jonah chuckled, stretching his arm across the back of the bench behind her, the picture of relaxation. “That’s your problem, Ruby. You can make a mountain out of a mole hill.”
Ruby dropped her arm from her face and fumed at Jonah, who took that as the sign to make his exit. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not your fault.” He said as he headed off toward the corner of the yard where his mother and girlfriend were deep in conversation. “You’re just like Momma.”
Demeter Pruning Shears is described as follows:
The bloom and the sword. This scent combines roses with that lovely metallic tang of the shears. Really soft scent with wide appeal.As roses go, this is a clean and unassuming rose. Not overly soapy, not patchouli, not candied, not leather. Just a light and gentle rose scent, more like rose water really. The unique part of those rose is that there really is a metal tang here. It is the strangest sensation to actually smell the metal of the pruning shears. The thing that happens when I smell it is that I actually here this impatient snick, snick, snick! in my head, which was the inspiration for this piece.
Who was she? Why was she cutting the flowers, and with such frustration? It's a great scent because of that visceral reaction. It feels like a real moment in a rose garden. I could have written you an entirely different story on a different day, but this was the one that came when I asked the questions.
One more tomorrow. I hope you like it.
See other pieces in the series here.