Tuesday, March 11, 2008

African Violet

(Written March 2008)

The African violet sits on top of my old piano, surrounded by family photos: there’s one of myMom grandfather and his vaudeville quartet; another of me, age 2, wearing a sun bonnet and looking quite self-satisfied, sitting on the beach; there are my sisters, Jackie and Nancy, at a recent family reunion; and one of my mom in her 20s, a wistful look on her beautiful face, dreaming of a future that would never manifest.

Mom was never keen on keeping many house plants, but she did love her African violets. She always had a half dozen or so lining her windowsill, and she pampered them so they were lush and healthy.

When she died ten years ago, there were just a few of her things that I longed to take home – an old garnet ring, a favorite crystal bowl, one of her sketchbooks. And the smallest African violet, the runt of the litter.

We took Mom’s ashes out to Hunter Point, the beach on Puget Sound where we’d all spent so many happy times during summer vacations. In the sixties, Mom and Dad built a beautiful home there on the beach. Mom had always expressed her wish to return to the Point by way of having her ashes sprinkled there – she loved watching the sun rise behind Mt. Rainier and the views of the Olympics and several islands in the sound.

We didn’t have a boat or a dock, so we stood there on the beach on a cold October afternoon – Dad, Nancy, Jackie and me – and tossed her ashes as far out into the water as we could manage. I watched as the water lapped up on shore, her ashes mixing with sand and seaweed and tiny shells.

I kept a handful of her ashes. I found a pretty box to put them in and placed them on my altar, where they sat for several years.

The African violet thrived. It appreciated the sunny south window spot I made for it. After several years, it looked like it was outgrowing its pot, so I transplanted it into a bigger one. A few months later, I noticed that it seemed to be splitting into three distinct plants.

It was October again. Seven years had passed since Mom died and I was in transition, planning a move and a new life with my partner. I didn’t want to keep Mom’s ashes anymore – but I had no idea how to dispose of them respectfully. The garbage can was out of the question. The compost pile? I would appreciate that for my own ashes, but Mom, not so much. It was a long way to travel up to Puget Sound to join this handful with the other ashes that had become part of the beach.

Then my partner Laurie made a suggestion that resonated deeply. “You’ve been talking about separating the African violet,” she said, “why don’t you do that and put her ashes into the pots?”

On the anniversary of her death, I mixed her ashes with potting soil, tenderly pulled the violet into three separate plants, and repotted them in pretty ceramic planters. I delivered Nancy’s to her the day she moved into a new house; Jackie wrapped hers carefully and took it home to Houston after flying up here for our wedding.

Now Mom blooms regularly on Jackie’s plant stand, on Nancy’s windowsill – and on the old family piano next to a photo of a dreamy young woman.

1 comment:

Dewey said...

I'm really enjoying your poetry over at this blog, but I think this prose piece is my favorite. So moving and obviously from the heart.