Of all the plants Ami could have picked, she decided upon African violets.
Botanical name: Saintpaula ionantha
Plant type: perennial
Planetary ruler: venus
Elemental ruler: water
Reputation: one of the most difficult houseplants to care for and keep in bloom
Meanings: a delicate love, modesty, Mary, spiritual wisdom, humility, faithfulness
The smell of the nursery greenhouse reminded me of summers spent at my grandparent’s house, especially my grandmother’s greenhouse. It was there my brother and i ran free without the clutches of an over-protective mother. We explored St. Francis park and the creek behind their house during those humid Texas months. We collected insect specimens, biked through the park’s wooded patches where children had built forts, and a car – half buried and rotted with rust – inspired stories of murder, dead bodies, and cautious glances over our shoulders. We walked the railroad tracks in front of their house, leaving pennies on the tracks. Their house, my father’s childhood home, was at the bottom of a hill. On top of the hill was an old cemetery and a story about a heavy rain that brought skeleton bones and a skull to the base of the hill.
My grandfather built the greenhouse for her, a gift to house the plants she cared for year after year. This mystical fortress with a screen door entrance included a huge, glistening spider web that hung from one corner to the other. In the center of its web, a yellow and black spider stood guard, protecting the plants and the insects that made her greenhouse their home. We were terrified of the spider, of breaking her web, and yet curiosity made us return daily to watch the spider.
Open the screen door, inhale the glorious smell of earth and nature, feel the escaping warm air, take a step closer to the spider, feel the hair on the skin rise.
If my grandmother has a scent, it is the smell of her greenhouse.
Several summers after my grandfather died, ferns hung from the ceiling in the bedroom where they used to sleep. I lay next to her in the grand bed and asked if she missed him.
She nodded and said, “but he is often here with me.”
Of all the plants I could have picked, I selected two ferns.
We set up the terrariums and planted our plants that evening. Ami prepared a fishbowl – quickly and excitedly – some rock, a little charcoal, peat moss, planting soil and then her African violets. She touched the flowers and petals despite my concern that such a touch could kill it.
I over-watered them that night.
Daily, she cares for her violets and the other plants – examining, watering, and mothering them. On Sunday, she set up a small bench to display the plants for my mother and father. When they arrived, she picked up her plant with its bright raspberry-colored blooms. Full of life.
“African Violets!” said my father. “When I was a boy, I helped Great Grandma Betty take care of her African violets.”
During the course of their visit, a message arrived: “She has fallen.”
That night, Ami lay next to me in the big bed. We spoke about hip bones, broken bones, getting old, and she asked, “what does a hospital bed look like?”
The ambulance arrived at my grandmother’s house.
And another message came: “Hip broken. Will need surgery.”
Late into the night, on the other side of town, my father, wound up in emotion, called for my mother to lay down next to him.
And in the darkness, perhaps, another violet bloom opened.