Perched in its holder on the front porch today, the flag of the United States hangs in the motionless, late-May air. Squatting in a flowerbed just below, I dig up daffodil bulbs jammed tight against each other underground.
Gardening is generally peaceful, except when you’re wrestling with the earth. My goal is to save the bulbs. Although the long, cool spring encouraged their longevity, there had been noticeably fewer blooms this year.
Digging them up, separating them, and storing them for fall planting is the plan. These tasks are much easier to write about than to do, especially since we’d not stinted on planting the grandaddies of today’s daffodils deep years ago.
Tunneling, tunneling, I scrabble into the dirt with my hands, but not far down enough. Then I resort to the pitchfork, angled to prevent piercing the plump bulbs in mid-divide. Finally, my fingers sieve the ground, and I’m grateful for a pair of opposable thumbs that turn and twist the wedged-in bulbs, liberating them from the underground home that gradually grew to be their prison.
Although the bulbs are upright, what forms into thoughts as I work are images of skulls stacked sideways. It’s strange how orderly people can be when it comes to mass carnage. Cambodia came to mind, then Viet Nam, Korea, and on back to World War II.
And then I think of the Pentagon, about 20 miles from here.
Long before 9/11, I worked at the Pentagon as a technical writer on contract for a while. There, life and work seemed objectified, third-person. Those whom I met were serious about their work. In the midst of it, their humor, laced with bawdiness, ranged from tight-lipped understatement to gut-bouncing obstreperousness.
The first time I walked through its halls unescorted, my clearance on a lanyard around my neck, the phrase “little Irish girl makes good,” flashed to mind, and I laughed aloud. A couple of military guys paused and looked at me quizzically. I grinned back, knowing I needed to straighten up and fly right.
Today those words stream across my imagination again like skywriting. I laugh again, sitting in the dirt of my garden under the quiet flag. On sunny days like this one, my Pentagon buddies and I used to eat lunch together at the Ground Zero Cafe. I’m proud of my work and of them and my Pentagon memories.
Before and after 9/11: Levitation and the Weinermobile
I dig out what bulbs I can before the Virginia heat kicks in. Smoothing the emptied dirt, thoughts of the attempt to levitate the Pentagon in 1967 crossed my mind. Ah, the joys of civil disobedience. No, it wasn’t a bad thing; it was superb marketing and publicity. And no, I wasn’t there.
Regardless of what side you were on, the levitation, as such, was a superb demonstration of—what? Anti-war activism? Not so much. It was a superb demonstration of one of the least-recognized rights of United States citizens: the right to free assembly.
Phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.
Which made another incident some years later a marked contrast: a few months after 9/11, Virginia state police stopped an Oscar Mayer Weinermobile cruising near the Pentagon on a road closed to commercial traffic. The drivers (aka “hot-doggers”) were questioned and directed to the nearest exit. The possibility of double-reverse backflip terrorism was evaluated, discounted, and dismissed. They were hot-doggers all right, but they were our hot-doggers.
Memorial Day, 2011. Lots of memories. No fireworks like the Fourth of July. I pat the earth flat with my hands, gather the liberated bulbs of all sizes, shapes, and shades, and take them into the house to wash, dry, and store for fall planting.
Your comments and questions are always welcome!
Read more of Frances Ponick’s work at Stages of Grief in the Washington Times Communities. You can follow Frances on Twitter @EulogyAdvisor
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