Pink flamingos, plastic tulips and snowplows

Sharon M. Kennedy

When you grow up on a farm, the last thing you think about is planting flowers because there’s so much other work demanding attention. When I was young the only flowers in our yard were the ones that grew wild, but in 1968 when the trailer arrived all that changed. Although my folks still kept Herefords, the milk cows were gone. Mom finally had time to putter in the yard and try her hand at planting a flower garden.

One of the first things she did was commission Dad to turn old tires into flower pots with scalloped edges. Then she spray painted them silver, added dirt, and filled them with petunias, her favorite annual. This endeavor was a success so the next year she scattered crocus, tulip, daffodil, and iris bulbs around the front yard.

She was making up for all those years when the only flowers to appear were dandelions, daisies, and black-eyed Susans.

Once the flowers were planted, Mom moved on to another project and created a stone garden. If there was one thing Mom loved, it was a stone. I never realized this until I came home from Detroit for a visit and saw a neat line of painted stones leading from the doorway to the road. Larger green stones functioned as boundaries. Only one side of each stone was painted, so if something disrupted the pattern it was immediately noticeable. Mom got out her can of spray paint and set things right.

When the Herefords were sold and outdoor work no longer involved fixing fences, moving the cattle from one pasture to another, or worrying about getting the hay in for winter, Mom focused on her yard. She bought little white wooden fences and placed them neatly around the flowers. Dad used to say the yard looked like a cemetery, but Mom was undeterred. She enjoyed her hobby. Since the cows were gone and there were no chickens to scratch up everything, she devoted summer months to creating a nice yard.

The year she discovered pink flamingos and plastic tulips was the year I thought Dad would succumb to laughter. Flamboyant flamingos and colorful fake tulips were stationed among the silver stones at varying intervals. Those skinny legged birds dotted the yard and encircled the petunias. Eventually, they were joined by a family of plastic chickens and ducks that survive to this day.

Mom was years ahead of the modern trend of sticking plastic flowers around gravesites and installing gigantic rocks in front yards. Although pink flamingos are still seen, they’re not as popular as the rocks. Mom would have shunned them saying they looked too much like tombstones. At least I think that’s what she would have said, but I’ll never know.

But now that snow is here, I do know one thing for certain. Mom dreaded the thought of her beautiful stones being tossed this way and that when her brother brought over his tractor with the snow blower attachment to clear her driveway. I don’t remember how our long lane was cleared when I was a kid, but Dad probably “rolled” it with a large contraption called a snow roller. Some oldsters might remember the enormous round roller that was hitched to horses and used to roll and pack the snow.

My memory doesn’t include work horses because I was very young when ours were replaced by a tractor. Dad always rolled the lane and the short driveway leading to the trailer. However, when he passed away in September of 1983, the job of keeping navigation open during winter fell to Uncle Steve. Mom’s brother lived in their family home across the road from this trailer. Every heavy snowfall saw him blowing snow. Although Mom was grateful for the help, she knew what was in store come spring. Picking stones where Uncle Steve’s blower had thrown them kept her busy from the time the snow melted until the first daffodils poked through the thawing earth.

It was always a challenge but Mom didn’t quit until she had gathered every scattered stone she could find in the front yard. A few were lost forever, either buried among the trees or flung to the four winds, never to be seen again. Those of you who remember going to the drive-in and walking on crushed rock will know what Mom’s driveway looked like. It was two inches deep with stones, and it was wonderful. Mud was a thing of the past because it never oozed through the stony barrier.

We lost Uncle Steve in 1993 and since then most of the stones have disappeared. The fellows I hire to plow the driveway don’t just plow the snow. They make sure they scrape everything in their wake. Stones, dirt, and clumps of grass are all fodder for the hungry plow attached to the front of their trucks.

Flash volunteered to clear my driveway this winter. He would do a good job, but if it’s too much for him and he changes his mind, I’ll call the plowman and watch helplessly as he pushes snow and sod to the wayside. A few years ago I gave up asking him not to scrape the topsoil. Sometimes it’s just easier to admit defeat, accept the inevitable, and move on.

You know what I mean, don’t you?

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Snowbound Books on North Third Street in Marquette.