My father had plans for grass and cypress trees
May 14, 2003
We came to a house in Southern California
whose backyard was full of weeds. It was our first house in America.
My father couldn't understand how the previous occupants - not my
aunt's family, who had lived there for a short while and then gone
back to Iran, but the people before them - could have been so neglectful.
I almost couldn't understand it either.
I liked the way it looked wild and natural, but what I liked more
was going out to the backyard in the evenings with my father and
pulling out weeds until it was too dark to see. We would work out
there in the evenings, pulling up weeds by hand or digging them
up with spades, and it was a kind of work that felt good because
we could see that it was getting somewhere. It was getting clean
and brown and flat.
I didn't know what was going to happen after that. My father had
plans for grass and cypress trees and a vegetable garden. I was
just glad to work outside as it was getting dark. It was nice to
live somewhere where it was warm enough that we could do that. While
we worked my father watched to make sure that I pulled the weeds
out by their roots. There was no point in pulling out only the part
that you could see because it would just grow back.
It was a good feeling to pull a weed out with its roots. It was
a feeling of getting at something that was not easily seen but was
just as much there as anything else. I began to be able to tell
which weeds came out easily and which ones needed some digging.
We had come to a new place, and we didn't know what was going to
happen here, but when we worked outside in that backyard that was
full of weeds, we found things that were ours. The smell of the
dirt was ours, and the pleasant air in the evening. It didn't
have to do with how much we had been there. Those things were ours
each night that we worked outside, and sometimes my mother would
join us and they would be hers too.
When we went inside, we would wash
ourselves up and then my father would turn on his short-wave radio
and listen to the news from Iran. I could hear it from my room as
I was going to bed. My father would listen each night and I knew
it was because something
important was happening in our country. That was also something
that was ours. Out in our backyard were the things that we could
see and touch and smell, and inside at night with the short-wave
radio turned on was the thing we felt.
I did not know exactly what they
were saying. I knew it had to do with our country and what was going
to happen there and why my aunts and uncles and cousins had gone
back while we had stayed. It sounded very far away, not because
it was in our language but
because there was a great heaviness and seriousness in the words.
It was something that was going to affect us somehow, I knew that.
I knew that it was going to affect a part of us that went back
to the past and to Iran, just as the evenings that we worked in
the yard affected the present and America. I was glad to have both.
I was glad to have a system in which the world felt very young and
full of something that we could do something about, and also very
old and full of something that we could do nothing about but listen.
We could only listen but that still felt like something big because
the thing happening was the thing that we had dreamed about. My
mother and father had dreamed about it for a long time and I had
dreamed about it through them. I had dreamed about it without knowing
it because I knew that I loved fairness, and that was what seemed
to be happening.
It seemed like it was not going to be a place any more where there
was a king, and we felt glad about that. We felt so glad that we
thought that we would leave the house whose backyard was full of
weeds and join the rest of our family who had already gone back.
It was as clean a feeling as pulling a weed out with all its roots.
I knew that it was the presence of the king that had made us leave
in the first place.
liked America. I liked our street and basketball and my mother's
relatives who had stayed and become American. But what I liked more
than anything was the way my father had fought against the king
back in our country. I didn't even know what exactly he had done,
but I knew that it had been something big enough that people were
careful of how they spoke around my father. They were careful not
to say anything good about the king because they knew that he had
done something strong and brave back then.
I knew it too when we worked together out in the yard. I knew that
my father was on the side of the people. We didn't have anything
against anybody out there. We didn't even have anything against
the weeds themselves. They were living things, and we appreciated
that they gave us a chance to be outside as the sun was going down.
They just happened to be in the way of what we were trying to do.
They weren't any worse than anything we would've put in their place.
We knew it when we pulled a weed out and saw its roots. They were
trying to help it live, the same as anything else would.
Out in the backyard it felt like it was going to be a good world,
whether we stayed in America or not. Even if we left and didn't
add a thing to the yard, we would've still taken the weeds out with
their roots, and that was something. But as good as we felt working
out there, the mood of our house changed when we went inside and
my father turned on the radio. The voice was still heavy and serious,
only now it was speaking of what was happening after the king.
The king had come to America and in Iran they had taken Americans
hostage and demanded his return. At school the kids would ask me
about it and I would tell them about the king and about what he
had done to our country and how the hostages would return as soon
as he was sent back to face his punishment, but the whole thing
was going in a direction that did not seem as bright and glad as
We heard from my aunt and uncle that we should not come. They told
us that we should not think that things had gotten better and there
were even some things to make them think it had gotten worse. It
was very sad because we had all been in America together and we
had thought that we would be together again.
My cousins and I had laughed about a backyard that was full of
weeds, and now my father and I had cleared it and they would not
have a chance to see it.We would go ahead and put in all those things
my father had planned, and even put in a swimming pool too, but
none of it was anything that my cousins would see.
My father would not see his brother and sister. They had all been
learning about America together for a while, and now my father would
keep learning and they would not. My father stopped listening to
the short-wave radio. It was too sad to hear about the thing that
we had dreamed about turning out the way it had.
We went ahead and stayed in America and made a life for ourselves.
We wanted to live in a way that always remembered where we had come
from, but we still had to live with our hearts in the same country
that we were in. We had to do it however bad we felt about how it
had turned out in our country and however nice it had been when
we had all been together.
But there had been a while when we felt like there was room enough
for our hearts to be in both places at once, in America and in Iran,
and it was when my father and I would go outside to the backyard
to pull out the weeds, and we would be thinking of the change
that was coming around in our country.
The thought of it went with all those things we loved out there,
the sun and the dirt and the work itself, and it seemed like if
a father and son could come to some place new and accomplish something
like that, putting aside their feelings about how it got that way
and just going ahead and working, then maybe something could go
right for a country too. We didn't know how exactly, but we knew
that the spirit of it would be the spirit that was in our yard when
we were weeding.
It was the spirit of work and nature and love, and of the work
belonging to those who did the working. It was only two people,
and sometimes three, but the important thing was that we felt it.
And it was all right that when we looked past the fence at the other
they were the homes of those who didn't know our hearts were in
both places at once and why, because for ourselves there was enough
in our own yard to confirm it. And only one of them had gone the
way we hoped it would.
Our backyard became a pleasant place to spend the hot days and
warm evenings. "Remember when this whole yard had been nothing
but weeds," my father would say. "You and I had gone out
there and pulled up all the weeds together," he would say,
and I would feel proud. And I would feel very glad to remember a
time when we had felt so much possibility, that we did not feel
far from our country at all, and the sun had been the same sun that
was there, back before everything had gone in a direction that did
not let us be who we were, at least not with the ease that my father
and I had felt out among the weeds.
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