She was determined to turn this desolate brown moonscape into a lush green paradise. My new stepmother had spent hours sketching designs full of curves to soften the corners and harsh geometric shapes that surrounded us. The house to our left sported a square patch of lawn bounded by a shiny new cyclone fence. The street itself rose sharply. Riding my bike up three houses to Jeremy's raised my heart rate as much as hearing the dry rattle of a snake in the rocks of the hill we climbed for fun.
This woman was made for this. Green was the color of healing, new life, promise. The hard-packed earth seemed too much to penetrate. I wasn't sure it was capable of sustaining life, but she was not to be swayed. We were her recruits. I woke to the blap-blap-blap of the rollshade maniacally sucking itself up and the white light coming through the window. No trees here to soften the glare at 7am.
She was already dressed in shorts and a knit tank top - her standard yardwork uniform. I could smell her excitement. It smelled like sweaty leather gloves and cocoa butter. Her shoulders were already brown with sun and peppered with freckles and small spots where she'd been sunburned and peeled. My sister didn't move.
Finally we were all assembled in the yard. Dad and his new wife hauled stacks of benderboard into the back while the three of us rolled our eyes and kept moving. Find tumbleweeds and pitch them over the fence. Half the time the wind blew them right back at us and instead of laughing, it pissed us off. This sucked.
Bam! Bam! Stakes pounded in to the cement-like dirt in a figure eight. Sweat soaked the curls at the base of her neck and wound them tightly. She lifted her wrist to her forehead and wiped the moisture away, leaving a streak of dirt in its wake, never breaking her stride. She and Dad worked side-by-side, laying out the framework for the grass. As we took a break for lunch and lemonade, they wove the pliable boards through the stakes. Tomorrow the grass seed trucks would come.
I swung my legs over the step and munched my sandwich watching with reverence. I could see the vision now. This woman could conquer anything. She worked without complaint. Her strong body, bent at the waist, sweat running in streams down to her ankle socks, carved away at this inhospitable place. Her work was unwavering. Even as we brought her ice water to replenish the fluids she was losing and warned her about the burgeoning crimson spots between her shoulder blades, she barely paused.
Finally the stage was set. The enormous white truck with its elephant trunk snaked into the backyard. We were fascinated. Two men positioned the hose inside the figure eight and another flipped the switch. The air was filled with the scent of wet leaves and grass. I hadn't realized how much I missed that smell until it replenished me like the cold lemonade the day before. The neighborhood kids all rode their bikes over to watch as the mechanical hum spewed the pulpy blue-green mush onto the dry, cracked earth. I wanted to roll in it and cover myself with the smell of something new. Something that grew. An ache of longing for trees and lakes and bushes pressed on my heart.
My stepmother's face shone. She was transforming this place and making it her own. I decided to hang on a bit longer. Sidle up to her and see if some of her determination and optimism would transfer itself to me. Maybe I could live here after all. Maybe.