MOONFLOWER

If I have failed as a tomato farmer, I have excelled in the realm of night bloomers, more specifically, I have excelled in the growing and tending of the moonflower.

Before I started running the roads with my pal, Alice, I was unfamiliar with moonflowers.  I had spent an evening years ago in my old boss’s backyard waiting for a similarly named plant to pop with blooms—also called moonflower—but this is not the same moonflower of which I now speak. 

That was a shrub covered with trumpety looking blooms that dangled down and were supposed to give off a lemony fragrance at the exact moment of eruption.  Everyone ooh’ed and ah’ed and I kept missing it, missed it even as I moved my lawn chair closer and closer to the action.   I finally ooh’ed and ah’ed, too, just to fit in, but I never managed to share the experience.

But driving around with Alice one spring, she insisted we stop by this nursery and that one, in search of moonflower vines.  We found them, scraggly-looking things, and then we plonked down an unbelievable amount of money for each, and took them home, and with the slimmest of instructions from Alice, I stuck mine in the ground.

For the longest time nothing happened.

There was a shoot—a long tendril that crept along at a pace so slow I thought surely I had chosen a sick plant.  It was tough that first summer remembering which was the moon vine and which was that invasive weed vine that shows up and takes over, especially after a rain—the weed with the large heart-shaped leaf, not the variated green and pointy weed vine.

Patience, however, is rewarded.

Sometime in late July, the moon vine just takes off, climbs the pillars of the porch, overtakes the trellis, wraps around the downspout and reaches toward the roof line, and SNAP!  just like that, the flowers come along.

At first they look like tiny soft-serve ice cream cones, all tightly twisted, a soft pale cream, tinged with the faintest of lime green.  Then, about dusk, they loosen up, work to open, and they do, but still a little sad looking, like a crumpled tissue.

Peek again just as night falls completely and you will be rewarded with a delicate flower, the size of a dessert plate, no wrinkles now, but a perfect bloom adorned with a spiral center, the pale tracing of green even fainter now, and it is a thing so beautiful it stops the heart and arrests the breathing for a moment or two.

And this delicate, perfect moonflower is not alone.  She has her friends with her, some evenings two friends, , some evenings, a dozen. There in the dark, they glow, or we think they do, because they should, really, they should.

They last the night, that is all.   New flowers set and spiral, destined to bloom when the sun goes down, only to fold up and fall from the vine with the first rays of morning sun.

And so it continues until late in the summer, until autumn arrives.

Ipomoea alba—moonflower or moon vine —shares its lineage with the morning glory, and is native to the New World—therefore, completely our own.  No cultivar this, no coveted and pirated plant brought in a ship’s hold to recreate the gardens of Europe, the exoticism of Asia.   Just a joyous little flower with a night owl’s sensibility, brightening up little corners of darkness here and there.

Much later, when the blooms are spent and there is nothing more to see here, the seed pods will be ready for harvest.  The seeds are poisonous but then, what is beauty without a little danger?  Research tells me moonflowers are easy to grow from seed, and this will be my late spring project.  If I fail—and it is a possibility for which I am prepared—I know where to purchase new plants.

But for now, I visit my moonflowers from dusk until dark, counting the blooms, admiring them against the dark foliage, against the black night. I talk to them, toss compliments their way.

I do it every night. 

Because in the morning, they will be gone. moonflower

Reunion

I really didn’t want to go.  Or more accurately, I was ambivalent about going.  I keep up with the old friends I most want to see, a habit helped by the annual girls’ trip in spring.  It seems enough for me.  I get to see Ruth Ann, Janet, Nancy, Linda, Julie  on a regular basis.

But my childhood friend, Margaret, is an organizer, and a bit of a pesterer, and she kept bringing it up.  She’s always nice about it, not manipulative really,  just a bit insistent that everyone know the dates, suggesting that it might be fun, using certain ploys to hit the right notes of enticement, each one tailored to whomever she is speaking to at the time.

And of course, I received urgent messages from the event organizers to RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL IMMEDIATELY and to GET MY MONEY IN NOW.  It was all too much.  But then two things happened that tipped the scales.  First, about a week out, three good friends from out of town let us know they were coming, and I received an email from someone I hadn’t seen in decades, and she was coming for our high school reunion, too. 

Good old Ritter. 

She has a first name, one of those mid-century names that every fourth girl child owned, so, to distinguish her from the others,  she was simply Ritter.  And I am happy to report, she still is.  She moved to Texas not long after graduation and once her dad moved to Texas, too, I don’t suppose she ever came back, or at least not much.

We had drifted away in high school, any way.  Our class was huge and the baby boom was at its height. In  our senior year we were on double sessions—splitting the school day between four grades to accommodate a classroom crunch.

It made for a sad sack kind of senior year, with a fractured schedule and many of us dreaming of life after graduation and just getting on with it.  I was one of those.

But Ritter showed up early the week of the reunion, came in from in Texas and hosted a gathering of old friends, some from our class, others whom she knew as a kid.  It was great seeing them, seeing her.  She is a grandmother now, has lived in Texas and Singapore, manages a hotel, has almost a half-century of living away from Owensboro, and she hasn’t changed a bit.

But of course, she has. 

But not to me. 

She looks the same, sounds the same, has the same sense of humor, and we might as easily have been eleven and circling the food table like we did at slumber parties.  She looks like her mother now.  Many of us look like our mothers, we decided.  But what I saw, saw it all night long, was the little girl who could climb trees like a monkey, the child I went to Girl Scouts with, the friend who was always up for a laugh and an escapade.

It was a quieter reunion than others, although the music was better, thanks to our classmate, John Laswell, and his band.  When I say quiet, I mean, we sat around and talked more, caught up.  It was endearing to hear grown, mature men who live out of town talk about going home to sleep in their old rooms, in a twin bed, in a house kept too hot by their parents.  We commiserate with them, thinking of our own parents’ homes. Those of us whose parents are gone, may wistfully have wished for one more night in our old beds.

If this reunion were a person, it would be decidedly middle-aged.  We are that, and then some. It was a sweet evening, low key, but connected.  There were hugs, real ones, from girls we’ve known since grade school, from boys we had crushes on.  Hugs that were affectionate and warm, uncomplicated now in a way that high school never was.

We are less our old selves and more our old selves, and it works somehow.  We had a hand in shaping each other, whether we knew it at the time, or not.  That is worth considering, although it requires nothing of us now.  But to spend an evening remembering and reconnecting was nice.  I am glad I went.

Here is where I thank Margaret for getting me there. I might have one more reunion in me.  But that’s a maybe, with the final decision reserved for the eleventh hour.

Back to School Blues

Back to School BluesAugust arrived, often with some of the hottest days of summer, but nights were cool, just in time to leave us dripping and shivering on the edge of the SportCenter pool, where our mother had signed us up for late summer swimming lessons.

We whined in the back seat to stop for ice cream, but our hearts weren’t in it. It was, well, it was just old hat, summer was old hat, and we mostly just liked to whine in a mindless, directionless way.   There might be some watermelon at home, but by now it was less sweet, more pithy, less lovely than the first one of summer. 

We had gathered around our mother wielding a carving knife then, overly excited and hopping up and down, peering into the deep gash she created as we listened for the crack of the rind parting from the wound, and the innards ruby red and thrilling. I thought maybe lungs looked like that.  But only for a moment.  Otherwise the image might have kept me from fighting over the largest slice, kept me from the bliss of it, the sticky juice running down my chin, the pink chunks falling on my shirt, which I picked off and ate.

School didn’t start until after Labor Day, a nice, long August to grow mind-numbingly bored, so bored that the idea of school was a welcome relief.  There were no more Nancy Drews to read, no more dusty games of baseball.  Cleaning our rooms to get ready for fall was the stupidest thing I had ever heard my mother utter.  She made me dust the baseboards, then, all of them, but I showed her.  I started in the living room—the one room in the house she kept nice for “company”—where I crawled behind the sofa as if to dust, and promptly fell asleep.

But school was still far away, or felt as if it was, and the last days were spent in idle anticipation, a little like being packed for a trip a week early, and all you do is sit around and check  your watch, look at your luggage, wander to the window and wonder when the cab will come.

There was an orientation day, as I remember, when kids met their new teachers and parents received the supply list.  Everyone headed to the Ben Franklin, ON THAT DAY, to pick up cellophane-wrapped packages of paper, pencils and crayons, notebooks and fancy binders.  I always required a new pencil box, with a compass and protractor, the latter a tool I had no idea how to use or what it was for.  (Determining angles, it turns out,  a skill I have never required in all my years of living.)

It never rained on the first day of school, which seems extraordinary to me. We have years of pictures my dad took of us standing in the alley and squinting at the camera, with new book satchels and new shoes, just before we walked the five blocks to school.  In a few feet from the picture-taking spot, my older brother will peel off from the group and act like he doesn’t know us.  A middle child will exert authority, or try to, over a younger child, by grabbing his hand, which will be wrenched away.  Words will ensue.

That’s about all I remember.  Walking to school on the first day, then a week later and it was if I had never left, so quickly does a new routine become, well, routine.

I will pass a high school on my way to work this morning.  The parking lot will be full, and the halls will be loud, crackling with “first day back” jitters, kids in wrong rooms, lost freshmen, faculty plastering on happy, friendly faces.  I wish them all well, and also the other students returning to classes all over town.

But, even more,  I wish for them a few more weeks of freedom, a September start to the school year.  It’s an old-fashioned notion, I know, and one that doesn’t have much relevance to the way we live and work now.  But give me a cool morning in early September, new shoes and  sharp crayons, and everything, all of it, right there, in front of me.  I can work with that.  Make something of it. A clear ending and new beginning that the weather and calendar reinforces. 

None of this mid-month, still summer business.  But September, finally, and fall.