A while ago, a relative of mine, posted something that caught my attention on social media. It was a very fine photograph of a VERY fine lady she and I both have loved our entire lives. Our grandma. Seeing that photograph got my synapses firing. I clearly remember when and how that picture was taken. My grandmother had come to visit me. She was with her only son, my uncle. He snapped a shot of the two of us sitting on my bed with my harp behind us. Grandma had come to hear me play my Troubadour Lyon & Healy harp. I remember absolutely nothing in particular about this “command performance”, but I do recall the walk with her afterward. I lived in a beach city at the time, and it was fitting that she came to see me there, especially since she is the one person who cemented my love of oceanside living.
While on our deliberate and visually fulfilling constitutional, my grandmother chatted about this and that…the trees, the flowers, the baby strollers, the birds we could hear over the din of cars on a nearby main boulevard. As I listened, I drifted off at times, to snatch bits of thought I kept in the ‘hallways of my memory’, always being easily available to ponder and enjoy. My uncle walked along with us, and eventually we wanted to reach a landmark diner to have a delicious meal. Grandma was in her mid-eighties but, didn’t really seem to be. She stood and walked straight. Her upright stance was as demonstrative as her upright attitude. She exuded quiet confidence, and could flatten a naysayer in their tracks within a matter of a phrase. It wasn’t malicious, just setting the record right, that’s all. We all knew that. Thus, our conversation was often punctuated with these characteristic pieces of wisdom. Oh, if only I could hear her say more….For now, it’s those remembrances waiting in the wings of my mind that will have to suffice.
How sweet those hallways of thought can be, with her in them! Most of my memories of Grandma center around her darling duplex home in Southern California. It looked just like a bungalow with a sloping wide A- line roof. It had front criss-cross paned windows bedecked underneath with cheery window boxes spilling forth her favorite, red geraniums. Her home also had prolific, lush front and inside gardens that most certainly were prize-worthy. Her house was painted a soft, deep tan; the hue enriched by a tad more brown tone, than a yellowy tone. This was such a pretty color that made a perfect backdrop to all of the foliage and flora on display. Her small plot of lawn was continuously vibrant green. It was a rich color that beckoned you as a child to lie down on it and feel the coolness below your skin. This natural “carpet” brought soothing relief on even the hottest of days. Bordering the grass area were plantings that brought delighted smiles to anyone who took the time to inspect. My favorite plant was the Fuchsia, or the “ballerina bush” as I would childishly call it. Hers had vivid purple and magenta flowers that danced in the breeze like ballet gowns swishing across a stage. She had several species of Azaleas, and they yielded a feathery, almost gossamer-like accent of pinks and lavender. Tantalizing to the eye, for sure was this beautiful bounty out in front, but the magic continued up the walkway and back to her inner side-yard oasis.
In my grandmother’s inside garden, were serious plants that seemed to command respect due to their sheer size and vigorous presence. Two of these were the trumpet vine and the honeysuckle vine. They had been borne from her gardening enterprises; from cuttings dipped in Root-tone F to the magnificent adult climbers on fence and post that they were! She loved her vines and would let us taste the honeysuckle from the blooms, which made us feel quite cavalier! There were several massive vines at work, having set their tendrils out in quest for further heights and expanse. The trumpet vine was really one for fascination. I never saw it devoid of a profusion of flower. They would hang down almost as if they were a string of musical notes in a composition. Though all the names of her vines escape me, I am positive she had flowering shrubs as well.
At one’s shoulder-level, I recall the showy camellias. There were at least three varieties, some double petaled, even! I could never mistake the signature scents of the lower-thriving gardenia and her night-blooming jasmine. She had heliotrope and hydrangea, spires of goldenrod and giant, statuesque gladiolas. If that weren’t enough, bordering her flower beds were lobelia and begonia. It was such a thickly endowed garden, that there was just enough room for her glass picnic table with wrought iron matching chairs. Grandma loved serving us lunch out on the patio, amidst all the greenery, fragrance and dazzling color.
To sit at a transparent glass table impressed us as children. We could watch our feet dangle and play footsie with one another. Grandma always thoughtfully set the table in style. Placemats were a must, and very often they were bright, happy colors and either made of woven cotton or straw! The napkins came with napkin rlngs of course, and our grandmother loved her colored glass! Thus, our goblets were made of glass and usually a translucent color in which to visually enjoy her homemade pink lemonade. Sometimes, we might drink out of her equally festive 1950s style colored-aluminum tumblers. Teal, magenta, red-orange, chartreuse and yellow….a feast for the eyes every gulp of the way! The “pieces de resistance” were the unique sipping straw stirrers. The tippy top of them had a tiny round ball with a hole in it for a mouth piece to sip on. It was lavender colored and infused with silvery speckles,. The ball shaped mouth piece was connected to a thin silver metal straw, which joined at the bottom to a matching lavender/silver speckled and slightly pointed well of a spoon. We thought this was the best invention next to our dad’s Osterizer! We each had our own sipper straw spoon and we probably spent more time stirring and giggling and sipping and bubbling than she probably would have liked. But what are summer visits at Grandma’s in her beach cottage garden for? Being silly and carefree of course!
Further back in our grandmother’s inner sanctum was a narrow walkway flanked by her clothesline. That’s where our bathing suits and damp towels would end up. We would also line-up our pails filled with claimed seashells and starfishes, for surveying and comparison, later. We would walk all the way to the back gate. This led out to where Grandma’s garage and tiny plot of green alongside it opened up into her back alley. Now, here, quite nonchalantly placed, so as not to cause too much attention, was the prize of all prizes.
Her fine horticultural specimen sat indiscriminately all year long. Then, once a year, this jewel of a plant would have its moment of glory. In the night, well past sundown, Grandma would take us in our pajamas, robes and slippers out to see her secret. She would tell my brother to hold the flashlight to mark our path as it was quite dark. We would follow single file, in stealth-like, soft footsteps. Once we were exactly there, stooping down in hushed, fragile patience, she would shine the light on her epiphyllum oxypetalum; the “Queen of the Night” flower! As if worshipping the nocturnal luminescence, it would fully open its bloom to the moon. All white itself, and surrounded by blushed at the base slender, pronged petal adornments; it had lacy stamens and pistils which seemed to float upward from inside the blossom. Her petals appeared to glow as they spread wide with frilled edge…a most dramatic exhibition! The “oohs” and the “ahhhhhs” could not be kept at bay. Our eyes stared in wonderment, and I absolutely know this was the solidifying factor in all our lives that made us become stewards of the Plant Kingdom. Having us partake in this annual event speaks volumes as to the kind of person our Grandma was.
Looking back at that picture posted on social media, I reminisce fondly. My Grandma and I were sitting in tandem. shoulder to shoulder on my bed, with my harp prominently in the background. You see, I believe my grandmother brought many splendid things into my life. She was the one who played her piano and accompanied my violin playing. She once walked me to a neighbor’s house who was a member of the Philharmonic to have him hear me play, (even though he was gone that day). Never fear, she let me read books for children about Beethoven and taught me to play along with her, Mozart’s “Minuet in G”. This attentive lady believed in me, and I believed in her.
Beyond that, there is something even more. Philosophical, really. Grandma’s eyes that were caught so well in that photograph ~~ say it all. Her soul behind her eyes was a Knowing Soul. She knew life was music. It could even be a symphony! Not only was music the expression of tune and rhythm, but, it was an essence we could all “see” if we just looked hard enough. Music is in the curling “melody” of growing vine, the “toned” fragrance of flower, the “dancing” curve and shape of leaf and patterned petals. Music is not reserved for just our ears. Our eyes can “see” Music, too. This is what I learned from my precious, sweet Grandma. This is what upon occasion, brings little ‘dewdrops’ to my own eyelashes; when I see the gentle beat of a butterfly wing, a hummingbird’s blur, or a medallion-shaped silver dollar Eucalyptus leaf twitching in the breeze. Thank you Grandma May. I love you.