As a wee girl, my first taste of earning power was obtaining 25 cents for every pail of dandelions I picked from the lawn. My attention span for the task waned, but my desire for more shiny quarters waxed until my little brain came up with a fabulous idea: If I loaded my red bucket with fistfuls of grass, I could earn money faster.
Unfortunately, my clever parents noticed I was much quicker at pulling weeds than my brother. Despite this short-lived business venture, or maybe because of it, I grew to loathe the dandelion, dent de lion, the lion's tooth.
While other kids spent summers becoming hopscotch champs and slow-pitch pros, I morphed into a dandelion-pulling maniac. Gone were the days of arbitrary fistfuls of grass. The butter knife was now my weapon of choice against the yellow lawn marauders, and my mode of attack was perfect:
1. Securely gather the lion-tooth-like leaves in one hand;
2. Insert butter knife into the ground at a 45 degree angle;
3. Apply pressure against the root of the dandelion until you feel that satisfying pop;
4. Ignore the fact that the weed will grow back in mere days.
At night, I would dream of dandelions, their spiky leaves poking at the corners of my consciousness, preventing me from sleeping.
As an adult, the obsession with a weed-free lawn only became worse when my husband and I bought our first house. Armed with my trusty red bucket and a butter knife, I set off to extract and conquer.
My husband poked his head out the front door. "Do you really have to use our good cutlery for yard work?"
The response he received was a yelp of joy as a large cluster of weeds popped out of the ground. I held it up in triumph. He shook his head and retreated inside.
Then my neighbour arrived on the scene. "I have spray for that, you know," he said.
"Naw. I don't mind pulling them by hand."
"But I have lots of spray. You can have some." He watched me for a few moments before wandering off muttering about chemicals.
My husband returned with the lawnmower.
"No way," I said. "You cannot cut the grass until I'm done with the weeds or they'll get chopped up into a bazillion pieces creating a bazillion more dandelions." He again retreated inside.
I continued to pull dandelions until it started to rain. It rained for days. My grass grew to jungle length. The weeds grew even taller.
Finally, on the first somewhat dry day, I retrieved my bucket and butter knife and continued my attack.
My husband came outside. "Are you still using the good cutlery?"
Our neighbour also ambled over. "I have spray," he said to my husband.
"Hey, hon, he has spray you can use."
"Really tall grass, eh?" our neighbour said to no one in particular.
I glanced at his manicured lawn. "I really do enjoy pulling weeds. It's satisfying."
"You didn't look very happy a moment ago," he said.
It's true. I had been nursing the ballooning blisters on my palms, punishment from the Cutlery Drawer Gods for using one of their best pieces for yard work. I admitted temporary defeat, and my husband lunged for the lawn mower. The remaining dandelions were chopped into a bazillion pieces.
Weeks later, my nemesis snuck up on me in a place I least expected. There on the produce shelf of my local grocery store, nestled between spinach and carrots, were bunches of dandelion leaves. The recycled paper tag bore the inscription, "Dent de lion. Natural. Organic. Locally grown."
"Excuse me!" I waved a bunch of dent de lion at the kid stocking fennel. "When did you start selling this?"
The dandelion leaves in my hand highlighted the blisters from my marathon of picking. I had worked so hard to enjoy a weed-free existence, and now they were creeping into my food aisle.
At home, I told my husband we needed to boycott the grocery store.
"Now that you mention it," he said, "I've heard dandelion leaves make amazing salad." I had also heard seeds of hearsay that dandelions were healthy but always dismissed such idle prattle. Out he went to scavenge what few remaining green goblins had not been chopped into infinity by the lawnmower. He rinsed them and tossed them in honey, oil and balsamic vinegar.
"I will not eat them," I quoted from my favourite picture book. You know, the one where the protagonist also refuses to eat green things.
"Try them, try them and you'll see!" he replied.
I tried them, and I loved them. For as long as I had been doing yard work, heaps and heaps of vitamin- and antioxidant-packed, iron-rich, dark leafy greens had been senselessly tossed out.
What I once saw as a plague, I now consider a pretty sunny wash along the boulevards. After all, Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to weeds as plants whose virtues have not yet been discovered. Now, when invited to someone's place for dinner in dandelion season, I always bring a dent de lion salad, natural, organic and proudly picked from my very own yard.
Gwen Smid lives in Ottawa.