Tuesday, June 17, 2008


My grandmother, my Muddy, loved flowers. For many years she planted marigolds, overwintered her geraniums on a sunny basement windowsill, and cultivated violets in her upstairs bathroom. Visiting Waynesboro even in winter was like traveling to a hidden garden. Under her care, the flowers flourished.

There were only two bathrooms in the Florence Avenue house, and one lay at the top of some very narrow, very steep, very slippery, windy stairs. As a child, I can remember climbing these gingerly, my legs shaking, my hand tightly on the rail. Falling down those stairs once in sock feet was enough to make me scared of them forever. But at the top of those stairs, in the bathroom, was a treasure. In a sunny window was a huge wrought iron plant stand, brimming with violets. Purple, pink, white. It was like discovering the Secret Garden.

This bathroom was always warm, winter or summer because of its south-facing window. Like a little greenhouse. And those violets loved it. They were always in bloom, the petals always large, abundunt, overflowing the planters. I'd overcome my fear more than once during visits and find excuses to climb those stairs and spend many minutes gazing at the flowers.

When I visited this same bathroom last month for Muddy's funeral, my heart sank. The huge planter I had imagined was in actuality very small. All the violets were brown, dead or dying. It made me sad, even more sad than I had been at losing her. It reminded me of the lie that memory can sometimes be. The illusion it is.

Muddy gave me her love for violets, and my whole life I've tried to grow them with little success. Every September on my way through the grocery store I'll watch the prices of the violets on display. They start off at $6, but gradually drop and drop. When they get to $1.50, I buy. I figure, they'll probably die anyway, so why waste more money than I have to?

And always, no matter how much I water from the bottom, fertilize, humidify the environment, and what have you - the blooms stay for a while, then die. Sometimes the whole plant dies entirely. But more often, the green leaves stay. And stay. And stay. Taunting me. Teasing me with their refusal to bloom.

When we moved recently, I had three such plants. Just green violet leaves. They had not bloomed in so long that I forgot what color they even were. And so I left them with a good friend at work, who has a much greener thumb than me. And you know what? She emailed me today to let me know they're blooming. It got me thinking about violets, about care (and "overcare"), and flowers, and my Muddy, and those things you can't control. Like blooms. Like death. Sometimes no matter how much you care, how much you love something, it will only bloom when it's ready I guess. Sometimes violets die, sometimes they bloom, sometimes they wait until the time is right...

...and my geraniums are finally blooming this week too after months of being dormant. I guess they were ready. Thinking about it, it seems like a good lesson in not trying to control things you can't. Things will bloom when they are ready.

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