I grew up in New England and if we were lucky, the summer lasted for two months.
In my more abundant winter memories, I see an African Violet on each mother’s kitchen windowsill.
I don’t know the reason for the flower’s popularity; maybe the women were trying to hold onto the illusion of warm weather, but African Violets were not easy to grow. They had to be nurtured, babied, misted and watered.
These women all had their secret tricks with this plant and only best friends shared their intimate knowledge of the mysterious African Violet. I remember playing under the table and listening to the coffee klatches’ swap advice. I remember hearing many different tips when Mom and her best friend were alone.
The African Violet produced bright pink, white or purple blossoms most of the year and if your African Violet was plump, green, velvety and flowering, you earned the respect of all the housewives in the neighborhood.
It was in the fifties and I don’t remember a single mom who didn’t have an African Violet or a single mom who left every day to go to work.
My mother-in-law is 80 something years old and she still drives from Florida to Boston and back to Florida every year. Her kids tell her that she can’t do it, but I tell her that she can if she wants to, because she is a great driver and clearer of mind than I am. LOL
Last year when she went home, I was entrusted with her African Violet. I was shaking in my sandals.
What if I killed it? Plus, I didn’t even have a kitchen windowsill.
Unable to ignore the fact that the plant had outgrown its pot, I bravely repotted the root-bound African Violet, using special soil and splitting it into two pots. I watered, I misted, I talked to them and I loved them. I was rewarded with plump, green, velvety leaves and dozens of hot pink blossoms all winter.
They smiled at me gratefully every morning from their perch on my kitchen counter, happy in their new green pots.
I kept them close to each other so they wouldn’t be lonely; after all, they had grown up together.
Each morning I would greet them and I would say, “I can’t believe it!
I can grow the impossible plant, the mighty African Violet from my childhood.”
Then, Mom stopped for a visit as she was driving back home to Haines City. She stayed with us for about a week and she never mentioned the African Violets. I saw her glance at them now and then with admiration but she never said a word. I never mentioned them either because I was afraid that she might be upset that I had split and repotted the fragile babies.
When she was packed and getting ready to go out the door, I said,
“Mom, aren’t you going to take your African Violets?”
“Those are mine? Both of them?”
Although I had toyed with the idea of keeping the small one, I said, “Yes Mom, they’re both yours.”
Besides, how could I separate them now?
Her face lit up with pleasure.
Looking back, I think maybe she had already resigned herself to the fact that I had knocked off her African Violet.
She put down the stuff in her hands and walked over to my counter. With a big smile on her face, she lifted the two pots into her hands and carefully carried them out her car. There they were tucked in among the clothes that covered her backseat, wedged in-between her tee shirts and her shorts, for their own safety.
With a last smile, away they all went.
I missed the morning smiles the plant’s bright flowers had given me, but I had always known that they were not mine to keep.
On my last shopping trip to Lowe’s I was, as usual, drawn to the distressed plants on display.
I picked up a badly distressed African Violet.
I really didn’t want to buy it and I kept putting it down and then picking it back up.
What if it didn’t like me?
What if it curled up and finished dying?
What would that say about my competence as a housewife?
I mumbled to myself, “How could a little plant mean so much to my mom and my mother-in-law, plus all the other housewives I remember and is it even really from Africa?”
I found myself at the register holding the plant so…I bought it.
It’s been a month and I haven’t repotted it yet. I haven’t even opened the African Violet potting mix, the bag still sits on my porch.
Maybe I’ll do it today because my distressed plant is no longer distressed. Its leaves are plump, green and velvety. One tall, straight, hot pink bloom stands proud, the lone survivor from the huge clusters that came as soon as I watered, loved and fed the mystifying African Violet.
I know now that when Mom’s plant responded to my nurturing, it wasn’t a fluke. I can be trusted with an African Violet. I have grown up.