My Grandmother’s Zinnias

Born in 1879, My paternal grandmother’s life was as different from mine as possible. Prior to World War Two she had visited Italy almost annually. She loved it there and even sent money to help out the family of her gondolier—the equivalent of a taxi driver for the canals of Venice. When I was born, she asked that instead of being called “Granny,” she be known as “Nonny,” a variation on Nona, the Italian word for grandmother. She was very fond of me, her first and only grandchild until eight years later when the first of my siblings was born.

She wasn’t a cookie baking, knitting “granny” sort. She was a forceful, energetic, woman whose hair remained a light brown with occasional gray roots between visits to the hairdresser, for all of her eighty years. She enjoyed my youthful company and we spent many afternoons playing card games or going to the various church fairs that occurred all during the summer months while I was growing up. She would give me money to buy pony rides and trinkets from the White Elephant table while she checked out what was being offered to the people attending the fairs.

For her, because she ran our local church fair for most of my childhood, these were a kind of business trip. One year she had a circus theme and hired an elephant. It was brought from upstate New York for the day. I remember riding on its back in a howdah. The elephant spent the night in our garage, though I was not allowed to visit it, I remember hearing i trumpeting. She enjoyed life and participated in it to the fullest. I loved it when she shared bits of her life with me. It was a very different one from the one I knew, as different as mine was from today’s grandchildren.

She was a passionate gardener and grew lots of flowers as well as vegetables in a number of gardens presided over by Mr. Patch, an Irishman with a squeaky voice. I remember that he wore overalls and seemed always to have a gardening implement in his hand. There were two narrow flowerbeds beside the gravel walk that led to her front porch. Each and every year they were lined with Zinnias. I can see them even now, so bright and strong, like her. I never heard her complain or bemoan her condition. She was an inspiring example of strength and fortitude as well as generosity.

While some of her attitudes and opinions were old fashioned—she believed that a “lady” ought not to have a job or work for money, she kept up with current affairs and read three newspapers daily. She also did volunteer work and gave generously to charity. As I advance in age I have grown to appreciate her more than ever. She loved life. Born in a time before automobiles, during the twenties through thirties and forties, she drove her Pontiac through every state in the union. She passed on in 1959. I feel fortunate to have had her in my life for as long as I did. She was a fine example of aging in a positive way, and as I too age, I am even more grateful to her.

Rejoicing in the Advent of Spring

dogwood blssoms 2Spring arrives in a dilatory fashion. Like fall, it is a back and forth season. In addition, some years spring arrives early, sneaking up on us and forcing us to get out our warm-weather clothes much sooner than we think we are going to need them. In another year like this one, we begin to feel weary of our winter wardrobe and yearn for the spring clothes still put away in closets or storage places. There is no telling when the weather will change. Spring is a fickle season, whether daily or yearly. I have written a lot of poetry about the way spring behaves.

I am fond of fall. I have written a lot of poetry about that season also. It is actually my favorite of the four. As it begins I delight in the cool crisping of the air, especially welcome after the moist heat of August. However, fall does not have the same kind of excitement to it that spring does. Fall colors are loud and obvious. The autumn brilliance blares from the hillsides like the brass in an orchestra. Spring is delicate; violins and flutes, with an occasional clarinet announce the softly evolving colors that slowly permeate the landscape. Where fall is blatant, spring is subtle.

These days as I drive along the roads between towns I enjoy watching the ends of the tree branches slowly green and redden, highlighting their tracery against the sky. There is a maple outside my bedroom that’s the first thing I see when as I open the curtains. Lately I have been watching the ends of the twigs turn green and then begin to unfold into maple flowers. I know these will in turn eventually fall and produce the seeds we call maple keys. Do children still peel the ends open and stick them on their noses as I remember doing?

Spring is an opportunity to get out and enjoy a walk. It is a treat to amble along the sidewalks of my town’s neighborhoods and see the flowers springing up in the gardens around town. Daffodils and jonquils, hyacinths and tulips abound with their lovely colors. The magnolia trees with their glorious pink and white flowers along with the dogwoods that come into bloom make me feel almost giddy with their generous bouquets of blossoms. How happy the bees must be to put an end to their long winter nap and emerge into activity.

The blooming of the lovely spring trees and flowers is also apt to stir up allergies in those who are vulnerable to them. This makes the spring season a lot less pleasant for some. Stephen and I have been fortunate to have the help of homeopathic remedies that alleviate the discomfort and sometimes even eliminate it. Still, the loveliness of the season may be some consolation to allergy sufferers. I am so glad to see the arrival of spring. Early or late no matter how long it has taken once it gets here all is forgiven, winter is forgotten, and we can rejoice in the glorious beauty of spring.

 

A Rare Day In June

Roses

 

As I drove around doing errands my eyes kept being drawn to the beautiful blossoming trees and bushes on the local lawns and roadsides. The town I live in is truly filled with beautifully kept homes and gardens. People here take pride in the appearance of their homes and everywhere you drive in Grafton there is beauty to be seen. As I drove I thought how eloquently the green grass, the freshness of the leaves, and the tidy gardens spoke of the loveliness of the beginning of summer. It is nearly time for the solstice. June 21 will bring the onset of the long hot bright days of June, July and part of August.

When I was a child I could hardly wait for these wonderful summer days: free time, swimming, sitting in my favorite tree reading, all these activities and more awaited me. As a young adult with my children in tow, on any sunny day I headed for the beach, meeting friends and chatting over iced tea as we watched over our little ones. However, as an elder, I confess that I cringe at the prospect of these long, hot days. The heat of the summer hours robs me of my ability to think and makes it harder for me to sleep at night. I have to lurk indoors with the air conditioner going, hurrying out of the house for an exercise walk either first thing in the morning or later on toward sunset.

Too, the sun is not as benign as it used to be. The thinning of the atmosphere due to global warming has increased the potency of the sun’s rays, necessitating cover-ups and hats, not to mention sunscreen and sun glasses. Remember rushing out to get a tan at the beginning of summer? The “healthy tan” we all used to crave is less desirable now. It’s almost as though we need to go back to Victorian times when pale skin was a sign of beauty. Now it could be a sign of care for one’s health. I remember when I was in college skipping a class I disliked to sit out on the porch roof with my friends so we could “work on our tans,” as we used to say. The idea was to increase the effect of the sun with tanning lotion rather than block it with sunscreen.

I regret that the onset of the summer heat and more especially the humidity takes more out of me than it used to do. I’d love it if I had a personal air conditioner I could wear around my neck that would provide me with a cooling breeze when I need to be refreshed from the heat. Even so, there are some delights that nothing can spoil. Yesterday, as I walked past a wild rose bramble my nose caught the sweet scent of the tiny white blossoms snuggled into some trees by the side of the road. I stopped and inhaled, taking time to smell these very special June treats. The present moment joy is what matters, not the prospect of discomfort, and at least I do have the benefit of the air conditioner in our apartment. Indeed, what is can possibly be so rare as a day in June when it brings me gifts like the wafting glory of these tiny June treats.

Tasha Halpert

 

April Showers and May Flowers

Maple blooming 17 2The forsythia is blooming. Its golden flowers brighten the landscape and provide a kind of sunshine even during April showers. Gardening is present in the thoughts of those who do and in the stores as well. Pansies and other colorful flowers decorate the entrances of supermarkets and other stores that sell them. Gardening supplies are piled up ready to purchase. Even though it’s not yet time to be planting, these and other signs of spring hearten those of us who are weary of winter’s drab browns and blacks, bare limbs and withered weeds.

Gardening runs in my family and in my blood. I wish I could yet I can’t claim the green thumb of my ancestors. My great grandfather planted an orchard of flourishing fruit trees. His apple trees blossomed and bore from the onset of spring until deep into fall. His quince trees produced fuzzy hard fruit that with my mother’s diligent efforts became jelly and preserves. In her garden she grew a variety of vegetables. I can see her still working away in it, her tanned back brown in the sun.

My grandmother had a gardener named Mr. Patch. He was Irish. I remember his nut brown face and his wonderful brogue as he discussed with my grandmother what he needed for the garden. She did some work also, principally with her pruning shears as she picked her magnificent roses. She grew both flowers and vegetables, harvesting and eating from her garden all summer long. What I remember most clearly were her glorious gladiolas, the saucer plate dahlias ranging from deep red to bright orange and yellow, and the colorful zinnias that lined the gravel path leading from her driveway to her door, bounded by a white picket fence and two strips of green grass turf.

My father too grew roses and later brought back some young peach and plum trees from a horticultural show, planted them and then harvested the fruit when they grew old enough to produce it. I did have one experience with a fruit tree. Back when I had my spiral garden I had bought what I thought was a white forsythia to plant there. After three years it hadn’t flowered. Reluctant to discard it, I dug it up, replanted it at the edge and forgot about it. To my great surprise and delight, though now in the shadow of a large spruce, it grew into a white peach tree that produced three peaches its first year and many more after that.

These days my gardening is limited to a few potted plants. Perhaps one day I will have a small garden again, however I couldn’t manage anything very much more than the original three by five foot plot I was given as a child for my own. I grew flowers there, and then weeds by the time August rolled around. But it got me started on many years of garden tending. These days I write poetry about gardens together with other aspects of nature and the world I live in. My gardens have become metaphysical rather than physical, and truth to tell my back is grateful.

Smelling the Lilies

Star Lilies 4       Of all the flowers with delightful scents, there are three that are favorites of mine: Lilies, Roses, and Hyacinths. So it was that when I was shopping in Trader Joe’s last week and saw the Star Gazer Lilies for sale I could not resist buying a small bunch and bringing them home. As I had hoped they would they have filled our small apartment with their wonderful scent.

As I sit here writing my column I am breathing it in. As I do, these colorful lilies with their glorious perfume remind me over and over again how important it is to give to myself as well as to others. It has taken me more than a few years to recognize the importance of doing that. My dear mother called such thinking selfish. She was raised in a home where children came last, after guests, parents and other adults. To think of oneself first, if at all, was not encouraged.

There was no intentional cruelty involved in this attitude. It sprang from a different way of seeing the world and of acting on that viewpoint. There is a strong behavioral edict that sprang from traditional thinking that it is better to give than to receive. While it is good to give, there are psychological reasons that were not taken into account by this edict that need to be addressed. In addition there is the question of balance versus imbalance to be considered.

I was raised in much the same way. I remember once being surprised when a friend said that we must be home by four o’clock for her children’s TV program. That the wishes of children were something to consider was a new thought for me. As a young mother it never occurred to me that children’s choices were anything to be considered.

In the years since then I have done a lot of learning. A most important lesson of my lifetime has been that if I do not give to myself I will not have much to give others. My cup must have something in it before I can give from it freely. My giving must be in balance with my receiving. What I have discovered, sometimes the hard way is that if I give only to others and not to myself I develop unconscious resentment that can lead me to act unkindly, or be overly critical without meaning to. This can creep up on me and I need to make sure I notice it when it happens.

From the time I was small being kind has always been very important to me. Thus it has become vital that from time to time I assess my behavior to make sure I have been giving to myself enough to balance my graciousness to others. It is not always easy to remember to give to oneself. It often initially feels so good to give to others that it is easy to forget to include oneself. As I inhale the perfume of the wonderful lilies I am reminded again of how grateful I am for this gift I gave to myself, and of how glad I am that I bought them.

Text and Photo by Tasha Halpert