“No, honey, not that one,” Mama said, lightly slapping my hand away from the shiny yellow-green leaf. “That’s no good, see? Three leaves. And look, see the baby leaves?” She held me back with one arm and pointed them out carefully, not touching. “They’re red. It’s poison ivy, and it’ll make you itch like crazy!” She pulled me up into her arms and buried her face against my neck and blew, and a I squirmed and giggled.
“Let me down, Mama!”
“Silly goose,” she smiled. She smoothed her thin hands down the ratty apron covering rattier blue jeans. “Look, pick these.” She showed me the ones I knew were plantain leaves. I didn’t like them. They were tough and bitter, even cooked with salt and fresh butter from Elsa.
“I don’t like them, though,” I told her.
She put her hand on my head, stroked my hair. It was yellow, like hers. “I know honey, but it’s what we’ve got. Tell you what. If you find any wild strawberries under there, you can have them with a little sugar tonight. If you eat your greens.”
I nodded. I hoped there would be some strawberries. The tiny wild ones hid under the grass. I looked for the telltale white star flowers with the fuzzy yellow middles while I filled my plastic Hy-Vee bag with plantain.
The sun was hot on my back. I squatted in the dusty yard, and when I finished one spot, I’d move to the next one. I heard Mama talking to Joey, telling him not to eat anything before she washed it. “Why not?” He asked. He was my little brother, and he was always asking that.
“Because, I said so, Joey,” Mama answered. “Don’t be disrespectful.”
I looked over at him. He was brown from the sun, and had dirt on his face. He didn’t have nearly as much in his bag as I did. It took a lot of weeds to feed six people. That’s what Daddy said. Mama said Joey was busy. She said I picked more because I was older, and that Joey would pick more when he was older.
“Joey!” Mama scolded. “Get it out of your mouth!”
He spat. “Sorry, Mama. I forgot.”
When the babies slept in the clapboard house in the afternoons, and it was just me and Mama and Joey finding supper in the yard, Mama seemed happier. But at night, after we went to bed, I could hear Mama and Daddy talking on the other side of the faded gingham curtain. Sometimes I heard her crying, and it scared me. I tried not to listen, because it made me want to cry too.They always talked about money, and the bank, and talked about where we could go next if they took the land.
I didn’t mind eating greens for supper every night. There was always a glass of cold milk to wash away the bitter taste. And sometimes in the summer, there were strawberries or blackberries with sugar and cream.
But I didn’t like it when Mama cried.