AMONG THE MANY things my mother taught me was how to grow grass.
I speak not of Kentucky Blue or Fescue or Bermuda, but the grass one smokes, or bakes into brownies, the sort that leaves one happily mellow, able to dust the gargoyles and whatnots in a happy blur (or so I’ve heard).
She was about the age I am now when she took up the hobby. At the time this seemed laughable, in an “isn’t she cute, the old bat” way that youths have of looking at people of maturity and prosperous bellies, amazed that they are still moderately functional.
In retrospect, of course, it seems a normal sort of thing to take up, should one get hold of some tasty seeds.
My dad had died a few years before and mom had moved from our large corner apartment on the 18th floor of a building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to a delightful one-bedroom that fortuitously came available next door. There were two terraces, one off her bedroom, the other off the living room. Both had views due south, which plays a key part in the story.
Michael and Astrid moved into our old place. She worked for designer Norma Kamali and was as exotic as you’d expect. He, at 35, was a semi-retired stockbroker, now only doing a deal at home from time to time. They raised little sand crabs in a tank in their bedroom, which moved creepily from pretty shell to pretty shell, which is neither here nor there.
They broke up, and Astrid took up with Bud, moving around the corner to an apartment without a terrace on 79th Street. Mom remained friends with both, riding to the theater on the back of Michael’s motor scooter, taking him soup when he had sniffles and hanging out with Astrid and Bud. She was beginning to feel her oats, as they say.
I was living in DC but had lucked into a job that frequently landed me in New York, and I’d stay with Mom, who would take the opportunity to teach me stuff that she’d neglected to teach me earlier. Important things like how to fry chicken. We once spent a week frying chicken every night until I got it right.
I never knew she was capable of preparing a meal without two vegetables.
Anyway, there was once a gap of a month or so between my visits and I arrived one evening to find her puttering about the kitchen in a florid housecoat making brisket and potato kugel (I’m sure there was a green veg but I’ve forgotten what it was).
“Astrid and Bud are coming over for dinner,” she said, stirring the gravy.
“Good,” I said. I enjoyed them too.
We’d finished eating and were having coffee when Bud looked at Mom and said, “Lynn, do you think the stuff is ready?”
“I don’t know,” she said, hopping up and going over to the armoire near the window. She opened a door and took out a rumpled sheet of paper towel topped with a heap of brittle greenish branches that looked like, as they rightly say, oregano.
Bud took it from her and crumbled the leaves into a fine rubble, nodding and smiling, and pulling out rolling paper as I looked on in disbelief.
Joint lit, Bud politely passed it to Mom, respect I suppose for her age, her position as grower and hostess. She inhaled, eyelids fluttering, holding in the smoke quite expertly.
“Well?” he said.
“It’s good,” she said on an exhale, “but not as good as the Colombian we had last week.”
I was smoking a Marlboro, in those days still considered marginally medicinal, and managed to choke out, “MA! WHAT IS GOING ON?”
“Well, Bud and Astrid’s place is so dark,” she said, passing the joint to Astrid. “And I have a southern exposure.”
She pointed out some well-grown specimens on the terrace (in full view of the police helicopters, should they be searching for dotty old ladies growing grass on their terraces) and explained about the seeds and soil and such. It was all highly edifying.
How she came to partake of the weed was Michael’s story. I knew he’d been pressing her to try it because she’d asked me about the effects, the dangers and such. I said, Go ahead, the worst that could happen is you’ll fall asleep.
Running into him in the hallway the morning after the dope-growing revelation, I said, “So?”
“She brought me some soup one afternoon, while I was sitting around smoking,” he told me. “I offered her the joint and she said no, as usual. And I said come on, Lynn, try it, and finally she did. Then the phone rang and I got tied up and the next thing I saw was her sitting on the floor in front of the fridge eating Cool Whip with her fingers, and the next thing I knew she was passed out on the sofa.”
And I laughed at the adorable old bat, I now recall with a cringe. Old bat indeed.
LittleBird Stephanie assumes the statute of limitation is up for this decades-old venture into agricultural science, now legal in DC and many places. To read her earlier columns, type Green Acre into the search box at the top right of the page.