Sam Venable  

Special Contributor

I never see a rose bush—especially around Mother’s Day—without thinking of my own mom. This is particularly true if it’s a large rose in full flower.

You know, one of those fragrant, vegetative octopi slowly engulfing a giant wooden trellis. 

When I was a boy, a rose bush just like that grew in the Wilsons’ yard, down the road from our house. The Wilsons lived next door and just down the hill from the Scruggs family. The Scruggs’ backyard was where neighborhood lads converged daily for the Great Sports Contests of the 1950s. Gravity being what it is, our errant footballs, baseballs, softballs and basketballs always wound up next to the Wilsons’ house. 

If a stupid football hadn’t rolled into the Wilsons’ yard one particular day, none of this would’ve happened. I bet one of my stupid brothers, Ricky or Ronny, was to blame. They probably missed a pass or dropped a kick. Or maybe it was Jimmy Scruggs or Freddy Kautz. It had to have been one of them, because I never made mistakes. 

Anyhow, the football rolled and bounced down the hill. It slowed in the dip that separated the Scruggs’ yard from the Wilsons’ yard. Then it came to a stop alongside the aforementioned rose bush. 

After chastising the other guys for their unbelievably sloppy ball handling, I raced downhill for the retrieve. That’s when it happened. 

Again, I stress it wasn’t my fault. Ricky or Ronny or Jimmy or Freddy or one of those other stupid boys probably yelled at me to kick the stupid ball back up the stupid hill. Was I to blame because the rose bush was in the way?

Booomph! The ball barely cleared my shoe before thorny branches snaked out and caught it. Or tried to catch it, as the case may have been. 

I don’t know the foot-pounds of energy generated by a freshly kicked football, but it sure as hell is greater than the tensile strength of a rose bush. The stem snapped just above the ground, slick as spit. 

My reaction was like that of any responsible 12-year-old boy. I ran home. 

But soon my conscience began gnawing at my innards. My conscience must have been particularly hungry that day, for it gnawed and gnashed and chomped and chewed till I was a mere shell of my former self. So, I went to Mother and told all. 

She listened patiently (although I noticed that she failed to comprehend how the sheer stupidity of Ricky, Ronny, Jimmy and Freddy factored into my mess. At times, mothers can be amazingly thickheaded themselves.) Then she said, “Go back to Mrs. Wilson and tell her what you did. You know that’s what you should have done in the first place, don’t you?” 


Ten minutes later—quietly, and in excruciating emotional pain—I gently tapped on the Wilsons’ door. (If you try to apologize but nobody answers, it still means the slate is wiped clean, right?) 

The doorknob turned. Yikes! 

Fortunately, Mrs. Wilson, bless her sweet soul, was kind and understanding. She said not to worry, that the rose bush would grow back. Then she added a zinger I surely didn’t want to hear: “Thank you for being honest enough to tell me about it. Some boys would have just run off.”

I’m telling you this story because 30 years later, when my wife and I were living in a subdivision, a loud crunch occurred next to our house one afternoon. Mary Ann walked to the front door to investigate. There stood young Justin, who lived up the street. 

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Venable,” he said. “I ran over your bush on my bicycle and tore off some limbs.” 

Mary Ann assured Justin it was OK and thanked him for telling her. Then she walked back into the kitchen and related the incident to me. 

“You mean that hateful ol’ pyracantha?” I laughed. “I detest that bush. Always have. Holler at Justin to come back and try again. I’ll even get the hedge clippers so he can do the job right.” 

Mary Ann was not amused. 

But at that very moment, a full three decades after I’d gone through all that conscience-gnawing and palm-sweating, a sobering thought occurred to me: Do you suppose Mr. Wilson hated Mrs. Wilson’s rose bush the same way I hated our pyracantha?

Sam Venable is an author, stand-up comedian, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. He may be reached at .