Fuchsias must be back in style again because after years of drought they’ve suddenly started popping up in garden centers. Being the stingy gardener from a long line of thrifty immigrants, I even managed to buy a small specimen that didn’t cost the fortune required for elaborate hanging baskets doomed to fry in someone’s overly sunny yard. My precious prize is sharing space in a recycled hanging pot with a small bit of vining variegated vinca for contrast.
As a child fuchsias always meant summer to me, when my father brought my mother’s parents the annual basket from his nursery to hang on their shady screened-in porch with the aluminum frame lounge chairs and puffy cushions I helped scrub and hose down every June when school was over and the long hot Maryland afternoons stretched into endless days of hay baling and competitive croquet. During years of childhood chaos, I could always count on my grandparents’ timeless routines where nothing ever changed and nothing in the house ever moved. You knew right where the Old Maid deck was stored and how long the Concord grapes needed to ripen on the groaning arbor.
These days I remind my mother of these memories. She lives in an unknown land with an uncertain fate. Each phone call focuses on a different topic, a test if you will, of what she and I remember. Whether they’re accurate doesn’t really matter because every five minutes her question will be repeated. I feel like I’m taking an interminable test that never ends and has no good grade. There is only loss and failure as the past slips softly behind doors that will probably never be opened again.
So I turn to the memory of plants and smell the spicy boxwood in my grandparents’ yard, taste the crazy squash my grandfather grew from foraged seeds that always ended up being slightly spaghetti in the center no matter what. I feel the downy pink puffs of the mimosa tree he planted that became our trickiest croquet wicket. To this day whenever I see a downy quilt of fescue lawn I want to fall down prostate on it to the childhood church of innocence.
As I walk my own yard, I spy the peonies adored by my step-grandmother, the sharp chicory of my mother’s salads, the zonal geraniums my father grew from seed by the thousands, the strawberries my maternal grandmother mixed with sugar and served over vanilla ice cream and the fuchsia that hung on the porch overhead during long evenings sitting with my mother’s father as he asked the same questions over and over, every five minutes.