Native Son: Atonement

A few months ago, and a thousand miles away, I entered the same grocery store where I first shoplifted. I remember well that it was 1972, and I stole a bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo. I had the money to pay for it, but I was obsessively curious about the thrill of stealing something, as I had overheard some classmates talking about what a rush it was to employ “the ol’ five-finger discount.”

They were right. My heart pounded in my chest, my nerves were on end, and my mind swirled with panic while I tried to maintain a straight face. Suddenly, I rounded the aisle and came face to face with a store employee. They were the only thing between me and the door. My guts clenched up and I knew this was it. She said, “Have a nice day.”

Four months of thrill-seeking later, life found me slumped over in a chair while a store manager explained to my father that I had been caught shoplifting. I could hear my brothers in the background, “What kind of a moron steals a can of Silly String?” I couldn’t look any of them in the eye. The thrill was gone, and I realized I was indeed a moron.

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Thankfully, time healed that wound. I never stole again, I can look my father in the eye, and most days I am not a moron…though I have my moments. The bottom line is that it was an event that, thankfully, did not define me as a person. I am so grateful that I did not have to go through life labeled as a thief for something stupid I did as a thirteen year-old kid.

So, what’s all of this have to do with gardening? It’s about not letting past failures define who you are and what you do with your garden. We’ve all made mistakes and done something stupid in the garden. We’ve all killed a plant or two. Both Neil and I have killed hundreds, which is not too bad considering the many thousands we’ve tended. This is life, and we try to learn from our mistakes and move forward.

Now is the time to plan your garden. Read up on what you want to do. (I may be biased, but I’d recommend Neil Sperry’s Lone Star Gardening.) Peruse those seed catalogs that have been piling up for the last two months…and buy some extra packs of seed for your friends and neighbors. Go on down to your local independent nursery and chew the fat about what ideas you have rolling around in your head. (Do this NOW…in March, they’ll be busy as beavers.) Then pull your gumption out of storage and decide this is the year you’ll do at least a few of the many projects you’ve been putting off for years.

And remember, “A garden is never so good as it will be next year.” –Thomas Cooper

Oh yes, about my return to that grocery store. I went in, selected a large bottle of Herbal Essence shampoo, and purchased it. I then handed the bottle back to the young cashier and told him that I had stolen a bottle of it forty-five years ago, and wanted to make amends. I expected him to look shocked and amazed, but he just set the bottle aside, mumbled, “Whatever…,” and moved onto the next person in line.

Sometimes atonement is its own reward.


I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Come out and see me at Chandor Gardens! Located in the heart of Weatherford’s Historic District, Chandor Gardens is the perfect place to get away and enjoy the simple pleasures of life that can only be found in gardens. Call 817-613-1700 or visit for details.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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