"Take off your pants," said my wife.

“Take off your pants,” said my wife.

Read on. After a quick digression:

It is my custom every Thursday evening to ask of my beloved what if anything she has planned for me in the 48 hours that begin after the 24 just ahead. I do this because I want to know, or attempt to divine, exactly how much of the 48 will be mine. If her car needs an oil change or she needs something fetched from the attic, those little tasks can be accomplished that very evening, or the following day, leaving me (a) the weekend free and she (b) free to come up with something else. If the agenda includes an invitation she’s accepted but neglected to mention until then, I can at least adjust my schedule with a minimum of angst. Winters’ are the easiest months. Save for the back-wrenching series of 90-degree turns and staircase descents required to adorn our abode for Christmas, there’s comparatively little mine bride can conjure to injure her hubby. Winter weekends, if not spent with friends, are perfect for the home hearth and a good book, some spiced cider and an old black-and-white movie on the telly. The return of Daylight Savings Time brings a welcome extra hour of daylight and the promise of renewal and the prospect of a fun-filled summer — and an unsettling sense of impending doom. So: “What’s the plan?” I inquired last Thursday evening, per usual.

“I can’t think of anything,” she answered. “Not really — anything.”

Lying through her teeth, she was. The extent of her calumny was evident on Saturday afternoon when she backed her SUV into the carport as opposed to nosing it in. Even when laden with groceries, or her luggage from a trip, she always parks the thing face forward. The solitary exception is when she comes home with its rear axle an inch above the pavement. She slid from behind the wheel, looked me in the eye and directed: “Take off your pants.”

Translation: Change into some grungy pants, or some grungier pants. She opened the cargo compartment to reveal what I knew, from previous springs, was there.

Mulch. Red bark mulch. Thick plastic bags of red bark mulch. Thick plastic bags, each containing two cubic feet of red bark mulch. Twenty-three thick plastic bags, each containing two cubic feet of red bark mulch. Three thick plastic bags of potting soil, how much of it in cubic feet I did not notice, though each was heavier than a thick plastic bag of red bark mulch.

A couple dozen little throwaway planters, each with brightly colored flowers awaiting transfer to the flower bed, or to one of the larger planters that soon would be filled with potting soil from one of the thick plastic bags, the three of them. A new garden tool or two. And new garden gloves. I noticed there were two pair. Of course.

“Put these on,” she said, tossing one of them in my direction. Take my pants off, put on the gloves. “This won’t take long,” she assured me, meaning it would require the rest of the day and part of the following. What we were going to do, she continued, was clean out the debris from the azalea beds, including some of last year’s red bark mulch, aerate the soil a bit, then cover it with this year’s red bark mulch, the stuff in the 23 two-cubic-feet plastic bags. Then we would decide which of the pots and planters needed new potting soil, and substitute accordingly, the just-bought flora gently but firmly ensconced therein. Along the way, of course, she would decide there was no better time to trim the liriope, the better for new growth; and, look — the clematis, it’s done so well since last summer that it’s in need of additional support, and surely I could fetch some floral wire from the garden store. “Why don’t you change your pants before you go?” she frowned, eyeing my by-now soil-stained grungies, the ones she had insisted I put on. The garden store was peopled by guys like me, solemn for their Saturday abruptly co-opted, coaxed in the name of love or commanded in peril of something else, to return again and again for floral wire, or another bush, another pair of pots, or a few more thick plastic bags containing two cubic feet of red bark mulch. “I wasn’t planning on this,” one of them murmured to me at the checkout counter.

“I know,” I sighed.

Regardless, gentlemen — take off your pants. It’s spring!

• • •

Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff.