Standing in a field of sunflowers an hour after sunrise is a sure way to make all the happy cells in your brain do a little dance. You're surrounded by a sea of gold and green. The birds are singing, the nearby alfalfa smells like perfume. A thousand cheerful flower faces nod in your direction and you can't help but grin and wave at them.
And then you start hacking off their heads.
This was me, harvesting my first - what's the collective noun for sunflowers? Crop? Bounty? Bunch? - let's say, DREAM of sunflowers. The kids were still sleeping, and I'd risen before D had even hit snooze once on his hideous WONK-WONK-WONK alarm clock. He'd looked at me with concern, then amusement.
"You're up early, Kimmy," he said, folding his arms behind his head and watching me dress. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Yup," I replied. "I got me some sunflowers to pick." I blew him a kiss and flounced out of the room, proud to be the first adult out of bed for once, and equally proud of the fact that I, Miss Kimberlee Lowry, was officially in the sunflower business.
I drove the truck back to the meadow, windows open, radio up loud. Weeds and grasses whumped and whipped beneath me and I felt very Country, with a capital C: an early morning girl, trucking it across the meadow to harvest her crop. Take that, Taylor Swift!
At the edge of the field, I killed the engine but left the radio on. My favourite kitchen knife, Pinky, lay on the passenger's seat. Pinky had a serrated edge and a candy-coloured handle, perfect for chopping flowers and fending off coyotes. I wore my trusty floral-patterned boots to combat the heavy summer dew and a jaunty Cuban cap. I was ready for action.
A few days earlier, I'd gathered a few sunflowers to take to friends' houses, just for practice. I was delighted with the bright bunches and pictured them decorating window ledges and kitchen tables. D did not share my enthusiasm.
"This feels wrong," he said after lopping off his first flower in the field. He thrust the knife back at me like a guilty accomplice.
"What are you talking about?" I said, artfully arranging a freshly-sliced bouquet on the hood of my car and ignoring the knife.
"I don't like cutting them. It's not...nice. Here, you do it."
I rolled my eyes, muttered something about men being insane and took back my knife. My husband could drag a calf out of a cow's uterus with a chain and winch and not even blink, but when it came to cutting off a flower, he suddenly became squeamish. What a weirdo.
So now, it was just me, Pinky and a big-ass field of sunflowers. As I began snicking off the chosen ones (Ooh, here's a nice one. Wow, you're a big fellah. Aw, look at this little baby one!) and stacking them in groups of five, my mind started to wander. I had two pails ready at the end of the driveway, and my not-so-fancy sign ready to go. Where had I put the peanut butter money jar? Oh right, it was rattling around in the trunk, a few loonies and quarters inside to give people a hint. How many sunflowers should I pick, anyway? Some were giant, some were teeny. Should I charge different prices?
I would have continued in my business-venture ruminations had five bees not interrupted me by dive-bombing my face. I did what I always do when attacked by an insect: I screamed and ran. When I finally outran the bees, my piles of sunflowers were nowhere in sight. A bead of sweat rolled down my nose, and the back of my neck felt sunburned. The tender insides of my arms had burst into an angry-looking rash. The bees found me again.
After six trips back and forth to the truck, stumbling over rocks and ruts and tangles of ragweed, I decided that you don't pick sunflowers so much as slaughter them. Choose a victim, grab it by the neck and SNICK! Off with its head, to be plunked onto the pile of other unfortunates. It was kind of disturbing if you stopped to think about it. Maybe D had a point. All these bright, happy faces that had greeted me so warmly now seemed to wear worried expressions.
Eighty sunflowers, a nasty rash and four bee attacks later, I decided the harvest was complete. I bumped the truck back down the meadow and unloaded everything at the end of the driveway. The pink beach umbrella got anchored, the money jar got thumped in the grass, and eighty sunflowers stood at attention in various buckets. I was sweaty, irritable and pretty much never wanted to see another sunflower ever again.
As I drove back to the house, I wondered how soon was too soon to start checking the money jar. Inside, I poured myself a strong coffee, slumped into Nana's old armchair in the front porch, and settled down to spy on prospective customers, hoping I hadn't slaughtered all these lovely flower friends in vain.
My sunflower dream was now reality, and so far, reality was kinda itchy.