I feel that just knowing Alex’s mother and father has added much beauty to my life. It was really they that started me on orchids. The living room in the home where Alex grew up is two stories in height. It is lined with windows looking onto trees and anchored by a big stone fireplace at one end. It is overlooked by the staircase and balcony of the second story. And it is blooming with plants of many varieties. There are ferns and spider plants hanging above the balcony, bromeliads by the piano, hibiscus, bird of paradise. There’s nearly always a stunning amaryllis or two, as Alex’s dad hibernates them in the cellar and brings them out one-by-one throughout the year. And there are orchids.
My first orchid was a gift from them. We went to a beautiful tropical greenhouse in northeastern Connecticut and they bought for me a gorgeous phalaenopsis. Its blooms were pure white and looked exactly like deep reddish-purple ink had been dribbled across their centers. That orchid bloomed generously for me once a year, usually in January or February, the perfect time to brighten the house between the Christmas decorations and the fresh flowers of early spring. Leaving it–and five others I had somehow gained–was a real wrench when we left the country. I left it in their living room.
Our first year in Oxford Alex’s mother came to visit and to meet baby Harriet. During her visit she walked to town one day and returned with an orchid. I put it in the living room of our old teeny, musty, concrete flat–which it instantly improved. It now has two friends and they live on my kitchen window sill, where they seem happiest. I waited all winter for flower spikes to appear, rotating them, watering them, wiping their leaves. In late February the pink one finally bloomed. Then one morning I noticed a second sending up a shoot.
I called Norah in to the kitchen to see it.
“Look! Another one of the orchids is going to bloom! Right here on this sp–” and as I lifted the flower spike to show her, it snapped off in my hand.
No. No, no.
I can’t believe I did that. (But somehow, yes, I can.) I held the severed spike onto its stump, willing it to somehow graft back on.
“What’s the matter, Mommy?”
“I broke it! Shoot! I didn’t mean to do that.”
“That’s okay, Mommy, probably it will grow back.”
“Oh Norah, I’ve cared for that orchid for a whole year, waiting for it to bloom. And I just broke it in an instant!”
She wanted to pray for it to grow back. I knew it would–in about a year. . . and we don’t know where we’ll be in a year. And that was that.
But I continued to water them.
Then a few weeks ago, washing dishes, I glanced up at the broken orchid and spotted a new spike, already ten inches long, laden with buds. I wasn’t expecting anything. I thought I’d messed it up. So I’d forgotten to check for growth.
But growth was there, abundant.