A Bed of Hairy Bittercress
My garden salad seller today had a platter out with two days worth of mixed greens for a euro and quite smoothly informed me that this week's platter featured cresson de vigne. I felt quite fashionable handing over my one euro coin for the pleasure of having this exotic green in my salad today.
It is a deliciously tangy salad green that is infused with a delightful citrus flavor, the perfect peppery counterpoint to lambs lettuce. It made me laugh and remember, once I realized what it is. It is considered an invasive weed where I grew up, with an ugly name, hairy bittercress.
Back in the days when we played kick the can, we had a neighbor a couple of doors down who simply adored her lawn and everything to do with maintaining it. She had a marvelously quiet and light electric mower and would stroll to and fro in fancy white sports pants and espadrilles, carefully trimming the grass in her front lawn nearly daily. She also spread all kinds of things to make it grow just so and deepen the color, manicuring the lawn to lush golf course green quality.
I guess she knew that her lawn had a slight incline, and cradled the body of a child at just the right angle to watch the clouds. One day, after a particularly hard game of something or other, we lined up in a row, 5 or 6 of us, to watch the clouds drift by, not a care in the world. We reclined on the delicate slope of her deliciously thick and soft lawn. The birds sang, the clouds floated by, and we were at one, friends.
Suddenly, there was the lady, pounding on the picture window, her silhouette shaking her fist at us in the most shocking and ugly way. At first we didn't realize what was happening. Here a simple patch of grass, out in the open, not being used by anybody. And here was a crabby mean lady ordering us off her lawn. How rude.
Danny, a boy that had recently become the star of my summer, was particularly miffed by her behavior. In his fury, he took it upon himself to rectify the karmic imbalance caused by the situation and to impregnate her lawn with an onslaught of hairy bittercress seed. The next evening, she had her sprinklers going and he pranced onto her lawn and spun around, spewing seeds all over her lawn. The seeds spewed, the water sprayed, Danny's blond hair spun with the sun shining on it, all in glorious harmony. I never really knew if they sprouted into weeds, it was a passing incident in one of many long summers on Circle Road that was soon forgotten. It was the longest time Danny had ever sat in one place at one time, however, and at the time I was thankful it was in my yard where the hairy bittercress grew.
I didn't think of the incident again, until at least 30 years later. I'd carried it in a basket up by the river, handled it carefully, washed it, set it in the salad bowl, proceeded with a simple lunch, and dressed it with vinaigrette. I sat at this big wooden table at Sunday noon amidst grey painted boiserie, all the way across the ocean. I took a bite and it all flooded to me. It's funny how things like this can lay dormant in the crevices of the mind. The flavor of a weed can unlock it, complete with emotions, just like that. I would like enough of this particularly delicate hairy bittercress, cresson de vigne, to fill a bathtub, and lie in it. Just once. That's what I'd like.