DRACUT — Marquise Dufour Renquin steps out of her air-conditioned home and onto her back porch. The humid air feels heavy. The wind chimes barely move.
It’s Saturday morning and, sure, there’s a heat wave crippling the state, but Marquise, 92, has some work to do in her backyard.
She sits down for a moment to sip coffee, and soon she’s up again. As she makes her way to her small shed out back, Marquise points out a tree stump that continues to grow.
“My son will cut it,” she says.
She walks slowly past an array of plants and a tall tree providing crucial shade. She points out some big branches. They also need to go. Marquise opens the shed door to retrieve a pair of pink gloves and garden snippers.
“I never work without gloves,” she says.
She heads over to her garden and begins pulling out weeds.
For decades, Marquise has given tremendous time and energy to her much-admired yard. It’s not to be messed with. Neighbors walking or driving by the twice-widowed woman’s home along Leonard Avenue will often see her in the yard, pushing a lawn mower or watering her plants.
“It has to be perfect because I like everything to be perfect,” she says bluntly. “I don’t like a lump here and a lump there and dirt here and dirt there. I like to see flowers and everything grow.”
Her light-blue home is lined with plants and flowers given to her by her adult children. The names of each kind of plant escape her.
“She has the healthiest lawn in the neighborhood,” says Patrick Dooley, one of two men who regularly assist Marquise with her lawn. “She’s the most meticulous about it, too.”
Dooley, 36, owns a lawn-care company. He says he has been fertilizing Marquise’s lawn since the early 2000s, under another company.
“I keep it green. I keep the weeds out. She does everything else. I just help,” he says.
Marquise’s daughter, Diane Beaudoin, says her mother has been fussy all her life.
“She was brought up by nuns,” Beaudoin, 71, of Dracut, says of her mother’s upbringing in Canada. “The nuns taught her to be fussy. The nuns raised her. The nuns said, ‘This is the way it goes,’ and ‘That’s what you do.'”
Marquise doesn’t dispute that perhaps that’s why she is the way she is. She chooses to focus on projects in her special sewing room and on keeping her yard tidy. She has had two knee replacements but refuses to slow down. Doesn’t make a difference, she says.
Then there’s the battle against her many threats.
“I hate weeds,” Marquise mutters as she bends over to pull another one from an area near the shed. “They swallow everything.”
In the backyard is a statue of the Virgin Mary surrounded by some faux plants in soil. Marquise says she had to go that route because of “creatures” nibbling at real plants. She can’t say for sure what the culprits are, but she suspects rabbits. To scare them off, Marquise has a bunch of garden figurines strategically placed in her yard: a pelican, an owl, a rabbit, a huge toad.
Dogs also do their business on her lawn from time to time. In the backyard she has a dog figurine assuming the position: “NO!” is written in bold red, on the dog.
“It’s not nice. They shouldn’t do that,” she says. “You can put that in the paper.”
Last year, the company (not Dooley’s) that used to fertilize her lawn for many years brought someone new to work on Marquise’s lawn. In horror, she recalls how a wrong chemical was used, and it burned her entire lawn.
“That was disastrous,” Beaudoin says. “I thought we’d have to put her in the hospital because she was so upset.”
Betty Leduc, a family friend, admires Marquise’s lawn and garden.
“I’ve always felt like you walked into this yard and you were walking on velvet when you walked in that grass,” Leduc says. “She’s so devoted to her garden and her property, and that shows.”
After pulling out some weeds encroaching on the Virgin Mary, Marquise brings the bunch into her shed to dispose of later.
It’s now nearly 10 a.m., and the sun is beating down on her. It’s time to go inside to cool off.
Her work is done for today, but she will be back outside soon. Everything needs to be perfect.
Amaris Castillo: @AmarisCastillo on Twitter