Keeping Witches at Bay

We buried Mama’s ashes atop a bed of wild honeysuckle vines. I had stopped alongside the road in Greeneville, Tennessee, and picked them myself. You might think it’s the dollar-sized magnolias in bloom that most remind me of my Southern childhood. Or the wild dogwoods edging dark forests of pines in white lace. But you’d be wrong. It’s the wild honeysuckle growing alongside dirt roads that most transports me back to the motherland. What child can resist breaking open those yellow trumpets and sucking out teardrops of sweet nectar? I taught my own children to do that when they were little.

Honeysuckle. Fairy Trumpets. Woodbine. Goats Leaf.

Planted by the doorway of one’s home, Honeysuckle is known for keeping witches at bay. Bring it inside your home and you can expect a wedding sometime soon. Faulkner employed honeysuckle for erotic purposes in his stories.

While the berries are toxic, honeysuckle is enjoyed as a delicacy. My daughter Shelby makes a honeysuckle sorbet that folks rave over. Honeysuckle is said to be the cure for a variety of ailments including a sore throat, arthritis, asthma, even food poisoning.  Of course, the fragrant kind of honeysuckle (not all varieties are) acts as a healing aromatic for the downtrodden and distressed.

So is it any wonder that when I happened upon a Georgia backroad where honeysuckle was rioting over the fence that I stopped the car and sunk my flip-flops into the still wet from morning rain sand. It wasn’t like I hadn’t already been to two different nurseries that morning seeking to buy some honeysuckle. I knew I could likely find some here in Oregon but I wanted Georgia honeysuckle (and, yes, I know it is really Japanese).

That first nursery we stopped at in Ty Ty was primarily for large landscape projects. The kind of place you go to if you are looking to fix up your plantation home on 20 acres. The second one had more variety of roses than all the gardens in England, but no honeysuckle.

“We got some growing wild,” the fellow with the leathery skin said. “But ain’t got none for sale.” He looked at me sideways like I might be shy a pickle, asking for honeysuckle. Some people consider honeysuckle an invasive weed. I might as well been asking if he had any kudzu for sale.

My son handed me an empty Starbucks cup out the window. I yanked me up a handful of vines, roots attached and put it in the cup. That night I filled the cup with some Georgia dirt and wrapped the roots of that vine in a moist paper towel before cutting the lid to fit down over the woodbine.

The good son Googled whether TSA would make me off-load the honeysuckle at the nearest trash can, but, yes, you can indeed carry Georgia honeysuckle back to Oregon via Delta. And I did.

Kept it right beside me in my seat the entire time, careful not to mush the leaves.

When I got home, I planted the honeysuckle in a protective corner near the gate to the side yard, safe from being trod upon, safe from wind, but in a place to get plenty of sun.

And that’s where it remained throughout the week, digging its moist roots into the fertile soil of its new home.

“You  might want to water the honeysuckle I planted by the gate,” I told Tim. I was in Eugene over the weekend as my girls were running in the Eugene marathon. They did great.

“I didn’t see any honeysuckle,” Tim replied, “But it’s raining here so it’s probably fine without me watering it.”

Over the weekend, Miz Shelby and I drove out to Johnson Brothers Nursery in Coburg which is my absolute favorite nursery. We also went to the OSU plant sale in town. I picked up a hydrangea and a Japanese Maple, some geraniums and snapdragons and a handful of other plants for the new dwelling.

Tim and I had dug up Mama’s roses before leaving our former home and needed to get those transplanted from their winter pots. So Sunday afternoon was set aside for gardening. I went to check on the honeysuckle near the gate and it was gone. Just gone. I dug around looking for any little root of it, but it wasn’t there at all.

I tracked Tim down: “What happened to the honeysuckle?”

He denied knowing anything about it, especially since he hadn’t even seen it. Or so he said.

At first.


“Oh, that thing? By the gate? I thought it was a weed. I threw it out.”

You know what they say: One man’s weed is another man’s honeysuckle.

“Find it,” I insisted, knowing he would have just tossed it into the nearby culvert.

My grandson grew very quiet and held Pa’s hand as they searched for the vine-gone-bad.

It wasn’t long before Tim brought me this root of a vine, leaves all dried up. “Sorry,” he said, sheepishly.

“It’s okay, Pa,” the Bean said. “We found it!”

I replanted it. In a pot this time, hoping against the evidence that somehow that bit of Georgia will root itself and survive, perhaps even thrive here in Central Oregon.

I want to teach Bean some of the same lessons I taught his mama. Some of the lessons my own mama taught me. How to suck the sweetness out of life wherever and in whatever condition you find it.

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).




Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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