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Monday, August 11, 2014

Hydrangeas -- Blue and (making me) Sentimental

Dear Readers,

 I know many of you love hydrangeas as much as I do, so even though this post was originally published during the month of July in a past year, I felt like offering it again. This little story makes me feel good. I hope it will do the same for you. May the rest of your summer bring wonderful experiences you will someday savor as memories, as I do my own from childhood.

The gardener learns many lessons from plants, and here are two:

1.) Life is determined to go on.
2.) Nothing is inconsequential.

I think of these lessons when I see the hydrangeas in Point Defiance Park, here in Tacoma, as well as in my own garden.

Family stories always start out on what seemed like an ordinary day. Even though I hadn’t been born yet, I can picture the day when this story began, decades ago. I can see it in my mind, partly because I know July in the Northwest, or at least what it ought to be. July is when summer’s first flush of color is over, the lawn turns brown, and everything slows down. It’s the month of wet bathing suits hanging on the clothesline, mirages of heat hovering over blacktop, and baby pears forming on the trees. It had to be July because hydrangeas were blooming. Some things never change.

Hydrangeas at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma
At our place on Vashon Island our long, graveled driveway ran east in a straight line from what everyone called “the main road" and passed right by the seldom used front entrance of our old house before heading toward the back. A few steps alongside a bed of orange and yellow nasturtiums brought you to the screen door on the utility porch, which led to the kitchen. The welcome felt humble but warm. On summer days, the inner door to the kitchen stayed open and the outer screen door slammed about every two minutes, with kids running in and out.

I picture the day when this story begins as sunny, warm, and dry. I can’t tell you what occupied my mother at that hour, but something did, one of her endless household chores. Or she might have already been outside hanging clothes on the line or weeding a flowerbed. In any case, a car pulled into driveway, raising a little dust that hung in the still, warm air and she looked up to see who it was. 

 A friend, on the way to somewhere, had picked a big blue blossom from her own hydrangea bush and pulled up to our house to give my mother this small gift. I can picture Mom’s smile, the way she stood next to the open car window, holding the hydrangea bloom in her hand while they talked. And talked. And talked. Finally, she got tired of holding the top-heavy stem with its mop of little blue flowers, and she turned around and stuck it into a flowerbed next to the house.

Now that hydrangea cutting, like a newborn baby snipped from the umbilical cord, was shocked but still full of life. My mother poked it into the rich soil right near where an outdoor faucet jutted out from the wall, a place of perpetual dampness from the hose or the filling of the old galvanized watering can. She just stuck it there while they talked some more and eventually forgot about it. The friend drove off and the day went on. The little cutting, however, felt the damp soil and at some level of cellular awareness knew to start sending out its first small hairs of roots.

Do you ever think of how life is like a kaleidoscope, each colorful little piece of it ready to be shifted and changed at the slightest touch? When a branch is broken or pruned, growth takes off in a new direction. The encouraging or discouraging word affects the child’s mind. Intentionally or not, everything we do turns the cylinder just enough to tumble those pieces into a whole new design. The thoughts of a friend, the gift of a flower, the contact with moist soil, all worked together in an act of creation, and the next spring my mother noticed that the little cutting hidden among the weeds had rooted and lived and was sending out new growth. Over the summer it grew larger. By the next year, we had a hydrangea bush next to the house.

That hydrangea, embodying the hue of the sky on a perfect summer day, became part of home and my childhood. I can’t picture riding my bike down the driveway, being up in the limbs of the adjacent willow tree, or looking out the sewing room window without seeing it there, beautiful and enduring. Like my mother, its glory shone without pretension. Not as delicate or fussy as a rose, not as fragile as a lily, it graced our home in a quiet, charming way, always reliable, never demanding, just there. Maybe we took both it and her for granted.

That hydrangea witnessed the growth of a family. It witnessed kids learning to ride bikes. It witnessed teenaged daughters being kissed by the boyfriends who walked them to the door on summer nights as crickets chirped in the moonlight. It caught the sun's first rays from the east, at dawn. It made a good hiding place for cats seeking shade in the heat of the afternoon. I have a photo of myself standing in front of it with my brother, both of us in new clothes. It was taken on some September morning, our first day back at school. The flowers seemed to last forever, but when they finally turned tan and dry, and winter came, we always knew that in a few months buds would swell on the branches once again.

Now I am older than my mother was on that day long ago. I don’t live on the island anymore, but I still love hydrangeas. I even have a few in my own yard. As lovely as they are, they can only be reminders of the one at our old place, and the lessons it illustrated in shades of summer sky blue. Still, I’m grateful for this reminder that life pulses all around us, nature struggling against the abuses it endures, always hopeful, always attempting renewal.

 So how, today, will you shift the pieces of the kaleidoscope of your life? What will you do today to create a small change that can become a big change in a garden, the life of a child, the depth of a relationship, or the future of the planet Earth? The blue and sentimental hydrangea still has lessons to teach, if you only open your eyes and your heart.

Copyright 2012 Candace J. Brown 

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1 comment:

luneray said...

HI Candace,

I'm really glad I found your blog (via a link from Calendula Nursery).

We moved here somewhat recently and I've loved reading your stories on the wonderful bits this town has to offer! I knew they were here, I just hadn't been able to find them yet.

Oh, and the Vietnamese restaurant on S.Tacoma Way? To die for. I probably never would have known about it if I hadn't read it here.