Esther raked her hands through the cold ground. Her heart as frigid as the early spring dirt, her jaw set as hard as the clods she broke up with her fingers. With every clump pulverized, she planted the last bittersweet vine. Celastrus Scandens, a twining woody vine. She had no use for the greenish-white flowers, nor the handsome berries it would produce. For Esther the vines held only one purpose.
She stood, hands on her aching back and scrutinized the new plants lacing the edges of her entire property. The lofty trellises she had set next to them were ready for the expected voluminous growth. Without pruning, according to the nursery catalog, they would grow to be twenty or thirty feet tall.
“Now,” she brooded, “maybe they won’t be staring!” Mollified, she gathered her tools and trudged to the garden shed. Noticing the shed’s exterior, she mentally added paint to her hardware store order.
Spring brought abundant rain and the bittersweet vines grew swiftly. They were nearly tall enough to hamper searching eyes. Still the occasional passerby tried to get a glimpse of her and shout a cheery “hello.”
“Hmmph,” was Esther’s only reply.
Esther poured a cup of black coffee from her old percolator and set down at the kitchen table. As she sipped the dark brew, her eyes fell upon the picture frames sitting on a shelf in the dining room. Cheerful thoughts from the past tried to gain entrance to her mind. “Stop it!” she shouted to the vacant room. Esther didn’t believe she had the right to enjoy those precious memories.
Mechanically she did the house and yard work. She put a new coat of paint on the old shed, but found no satisfaction in its restoration. Esther was lonely, she missed people, missed church. Nevertheless she kept busy, spending a great deal of time pushing… always pushing memories away. Not wanting to think of the bad, not deserving the good.
Esther didn’t go anywhere because she no longer drove. The old car sat undisturbed in the garage next to the house. Its tires dry rotting, gasoline long ago evaporated. She depended on delivery men for groceries and such. Time passed lazily, but still it passed, and for that she was thankful.
Summer conceded to autumn and days grew colder and nights longer. She hated to think of winter on its way. Esther stood looking out the living room window, glad to see the sun shining though the day was quite cool. “What…” Encircling the yard were beautiful bunches of red berries hanging from the bittersweet vines. She had known to expect berries, but she had not been prepared for their shocking beauty! “Oh, my!” she gasped in wonder.
The phone began to ring. “Mrs. Hatch, I just wanted to tell you how beautiful your bittersweet is!”
“Why, uh, thank you, Mrs. Albright.”
The phone kept ringing. “Oh, Mrs. Hatch, would you mind if I took pictures of your marvelous vines?”
“Mrs. Hatch, could I pick just a bit for my teacher?” asked little Emily.
The phone calls continued all week as people marveled at the stunning bittersweet vines and their fruit.
One by one Esther’s close neighbors, and those not so close, came by to see the lovely berries and visit with her. Some even brought cookies, brownies, or other tokens of their friendship. Indeed, the local television station sent their broadcast team for an ‘on the spot’ interview!
And Esther gave each one a bouquet of the bittersweet berries. “Now these will last for years,” she told them all. “Yes, it was just a yellow pod that opened up into these… Beautiful, aren’t they? Here, take another bunch.”
With each bouquet she gave away, a bit of the cold darkness left Esther’s heart. Was it possible they didn’t judge her? No one had even brought up the horrible memory.
“I didn’t mean to hit the little boy on his bicycle, Lord. I didn’t mean to… Lord, heal my heart.”
Esther’s neighbor stopped in the next day bringing spools of ribbon for more bouquets. “Would you like a ride to church on Sunday, Mrs. Hatch?”
“I think I would like that! And I’ve been wondering, Mrs. Gentry, don’t you think the bittersweet vines need a major pruning?”
“Well, Lord, my plan for the vines was to separate myself from people, but it appears You had other plans! Thank You, Lord for the bittersweet. You do work in mysterious ways!”
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