I was standing in my new living room with my hair pulled up in a headscarf and strokes of paint marking my arms looking at blobs of paint options on the wall. Somehow I managed to miss my tank top and jeans. Feeling both messy and put together and having looked at the paint colors long enough to be on the verge of a dramatic outburst, I felt like I’d been transported to the “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I was certain I had a tired and flabbergasted look on my face from spending the last hour staring at paints called things like Venetian Yellow and Adrift: Timeless Blue. Granted, I was in a house, not an apartment and I had a husband who would come home from work soon, so maybe I felt more like the Mary Tyler Moore of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Either way, I felt thrown back in time and thoroughly aware of my new status as a homeowner and housewife.
We had moved to the suburbs of St. Louis for Tom’s new job. Since I didn’t find work before we moved, I decided to take some time off and get the new house in order. We’d only been married for about a month and I still hadn’t unboxed various wedding gifts. We had spent a week and a half in my old two room apartment in Kansas City after our honeymoon, and since we knew we’d be moving, it seemed pointless to open up that which wasn’t absolutely necessary. It would only get repacked.
Honestly, as I stood staring at the paint samples, I had the strangest feeling that the decision didn’t really matter. Who was to say I would ever find work here? What if we ended up moving again once I was tired of being cooped up in the house? What if Tom didn’t even like this new job? And we wanted kids eventually, right? Would we really want to be hours away from our parents?
I was startled out of my thoughts by a knock. Confused, I walked over to the front door. Tom didn’t have a key yet, but I could’ve sworn I left it unlocked.
The person smiling at me through the glass was definitely not my husband. It was a woman, for one thing, and she looked old enough to be my mother. I cracked the door open and said, “Can I help you?”
“Hello,” I said without opening the door further.
“Oh, silly me. I suppose I should introduce myself. I’m Betsy. I live right up the street. I saw the moving trucks and I wanted to give you a few days, but I just can’t resist the chance to give a housewarming gift. Those are some of the best gifts there are, you know.”
Stunned, I managed to tell her my name was Elizabeth. She laughed, informed me that was what Betsy was short for, and said we must be destined to be chums. Not friends — she really used the word chums.
“Anywho, this is for you,” she added and held out a wicker basket.
“Thank you, ma’am,” I said, taking it from her. There was a loaf of bread, a candle, a throw blanket. Even a bottle of wine.
She must have seen it catch my gaze because she said, “I hope it wasn’t presumptuous of me to assume you two drink. It is two, right? I didn’t think I saw any youngins or playthings.”
I nodded. “Just two. And yes, we drink. Thank you.”
Her smile stretched from ear to ear. “Oh, good. And don’t worry, dear. Children come quick once you’ve got the space to make ’em.” She winked and I had visions of weekly check-ins with this woman asking if I was pregnant yet and suggesting home remedies.
“Well,” I said, deciding it was time to nip this in the bud. “I do really appreciate the gift. It was very nice to meet you.”
“You’re welcome, dear. And don’t miss out on the best part.” To my shock, she reached out and dug through the basket, pulling out a small packet of sunflower seeds.
I felt a blush rush to my cheeks. “I’m afraid I’m not much of a gardener.”
She shook her head slightly. “Nonsense, dear. Women are hardwired to know how to make things grow. Why do you think we’re the ones that incubate the youngins? Besides, a garden is about more than success. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if your garden grows. It’s not the Old West, we have supermarkets. I’m not one of them off-the-grid hippies. But planting a garden shows faith in the future. Planting a garden shows you intend to be there to at least try to take care of it, that you want to be there to reap whatever the sowing gives ya. And that’s something we all need when we’re trying to put down roots in a new place.”
I opened my mouth, but I didn’t know what to say. It was as if she knew what I had been thinking. Maybe I had been on track with the “Bewitched” references, but this woman was no Gladys Kravitz. If anyone had magical abilities, it was Betsy, not me.
Finally, I just said, “I’ll try my best, ma’am.”
She nodded warmly. “I know you will, dear. Well, I’ll let you get back to it. Those walls won’t paint themselves.”
She was far down the sidewalk before I remembered that one didn’t have to be a witch to notice the paint on my arms. When I couldn’t see her anymore, I closed the door and went back to my paint samples. I had picked these colors because they were trendy, but suddenly I found myself drawn back to my collection of swatches. I had always wanted to paint my living room lavender. I’d always promised myself that when I finally owned my own house, I would do it. I’d even gotten Tom to agree to it back when we were engaged. And why wait? We owned this house. No matter how long we ended up here, it was worth making it a home.
And as my great-grandmother always used to say, it isn’t a home if there isn’t a garden out back doing its best to grow.