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“Why don’t  you stop at Arbor Gate and see if they have  one?” Mother suggested.

The winter sun was streaming in the truck windshield. I turned down FM 2979 although I figured anything that the nursery would have would be more than I would want to spend. I’d been telling Mother about my ideas for welding up a bottle tree this half of the way to the farm. She’d looked over at me several times.

Perhaps my doubts laced my words.

I’d tried to weld before. Despite the fact that the process of welding captures my imagination, I sucked at it the couple of times I tried. (I know why I am enamored with welding.  It’s like metabolism,  all anabolic in a catabolic sort of way. You can make extremely complex, strong things of metal out of bits and pieces of metal that have been cut or molded, over and over again. If you can weld.)

The gravel crunched under my tires. We were the only people at the nursery. Pulling up slowly,  there on the one side of a long greenhouse, seven welded trees of rebar stabbed various patched of grass.  (Bottle trees have to have some way they root themselves, other wise, they will topple. These had rebar stakes, each about 7 inches long, that penetrated the soil.)

I saw it.

The biggest one of course, it was also the most arty. The welder could weld but whoever it was also had an artist’s eye. The bottle tree branches curved and twined, as naturally as a rebar welded true ever could. It was pretty.

“Go ahead and get it,” Mother said. “Does it come with the bottles?”

“Does it come with the bottles!” I said this incredulously.

“Mother, the top shelf in the new barn is filled with bottles you collected for over twenty years. A couple of years ago we packed them all up.”

She pursed her lips.

She’s digging out the memory. It wasn’t a good one for her. I can understand why she hid it away. My mother and I both have a problem. We collect too much stuff. We aren’t the only ones who do this. It’s a common mental or emotional or psychological malady. There’s probably a name for it. Other than hoarder, I mean. Seriously. Who wants to tag themselves with that one. Admitting to mental maladies is one thing but no one wants to be reality show fodder. Not really. We collect and buy because its fun and the world is full of pretty things and as humans, its difficult for us not to go overboard. I was in one of my moods to try and declutter someone so Mother was the unlucky target. It had been an emotional couple of days.

“In some ways, that was a different person,” Mother said, as we pulled into the farm driveway.

Mother in the golf cart and me toting the tree, we tried it in several places. It wasn’t going to be moved once installed, it required 50 bottles to fill it up. The thing was going to be heavy.

“Yes. That’s good, Jan,” Mother smiled, as I placed it up against the old barn corrugated tin. Even bare branched it was pretty.

I pulled down every box from the top storage shelf in the new barn.  When Mother does something, even if she hates it, she does a good job. There were labels on each bin. Blue bottles, small and large. Brown and clear in another.

“Do all blue bottles,” she suggested.

With as many bins as I unpacked, with all the days and steps and dollars she’d spent collecting,  you’d think that her request would have been easy to fill. Fifty is a lot of bottles. She suggested adding red also. In the end, we used every color she had ever collected.

“You know what a bottle tree is, don’t you Mother?”

“Tell me again,” she said.

I told her the story. The old south, full of superstition and religion, embraced the idea of capturing haints and spirits in bottles, evil ones mind you. The  practice had been carried across the seas, out of Africa, as plantation owners enslaved the strong minds and bodies of African men and women. It likely wasn’t their idea originally, as superstitions go, this was an old one. But the intent was consistent and the idea was that colored bottles captured the interest of evil, wafty, things during the night and in the light of day, the sun shining through the upside down bottle (apparently spirits are not bidirectional,) burned them. Or evaporated them. Something. My memory wasn’t quite clear on this part of the story. I almost injected a “Ghostbuster” containment unit strategy.

“There are good spirits here,” Mother said, a twinkle in her eye.

Yes, there are. Among them is the young woman from whom we purchased the farm, telling me she had walked  every acre and kneeled in every room, praying that the family she had sold the place to would be blessed. There is the peace of the Buddhist compound to our west, that although I am a Christian full out and certain, I like the respect they have for the land, their commitment to tea and I too find value in reflection and meditation. They are good spirited neighbors.

There are other good spirits at the farm. I feel them in my heart.

“Ain’t no haints here, Mother. There bottled up for sure,” I say. One way or the other, bottle tree or not, there is a peace about this place that comes from something more than just a piece of land.

“We made something good out of bad today, didn’t we Jan?”

“Yes, we did Mom. Love you.”

That’s what life is about, whether it’s mental malady, bad luck, or just plain life, taking the bad and finding the power and spirit to make something good. That’s what its always been about, thousands of years ago, across the seas or just another day in January 2016.

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