Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 31

A year ago today, as I was putting away the groceries and thinking about the end of summer vacation, my cell phone rang. JT was on a playdate and he'd fallen while riding his bike. He seemed fine but was unwilling to walk on his left leg; I'd better come and check things out.

Six hours later, the boy was getting a full-leg cast. It was the first of three casts that would contain his healing leg for the next 13 weeks. To put it mildly, it wasn't the best way to end the summer of being seven years old.

Today, as I watch my fully healed eight year old run and jump, it's hard to believe that leg was ever broken. After the final cast came off, as JT worked through a limp and the natural anxiety that attends to recovery from a broken leg, I would occasionally catch my breath to see him running around or jumping off of the curb. Now, days will pass with no memory of the broken leg inserting itself into my consciousness.

Today I will stop and give thanks for his full recovery and for all the blessings a mama discovers when her boy breaks his leg: friends with endless patience and support; teachers, a school nurse and a school community who did everything they could to make sure that a broken leg didn't keep the second grade from being fun; and most of all a little boy who grew a great deal in the past year. His patience, good humor and enduring belief that life is a wonderful and happy journey even if your leg is busted give me faith that everything broken can heal in it's own time.

Update: In answer to JBro's question about what I feed the boy.....child is being raised on kitchen fumes, guacamole, bbq potato chips, and ice cream. It's a proven nutritional success combination.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Alarming Malfeasance

With the arrival of back-to-school meetings (in preparation for actually being back to school), I've started to set my alarm clock for morning wake-up. An alarm cock is just a formality for me; a back-up plan to the internal Sassafras clock, which generally permits me to awaken on time.

But I am a cautious girl, so I always set the alarm in case of some sort of accidental sleep-in (not totally out-of-the-question, given my enduring affection for Tylenol PM). On Wednesday, the clock was set for 6:45 am but I awoke at 6:35 and got in the shower, as the cats slept peacefully on. Thus it was while I was showering in the morning quiet that I heard my alarm go off. Normally, I set it to the 'radio' setting and the first thing I hear in the morning is Morning Edition on NPR. It's a gentle start to my day. But on Wednesday I had apparently set the buzzing alarm. Much to my dismay (and the dismay of the kittens), the buzz starts low but gets louder and louder until you press the stop button (or throw it from the house, which seems just as reasonable now that I've heard that grating sound).

Alas, I was rinsing off in the shower, and though I hustled to stop the buzzing, I did not get there immediately. A few minutes later, when I silenced the clock, the cats were pacing around on my bed, with startled horrified expressions on their fuzzy little faces.

It seems that Tiger and Lucy were NOT amused.

Friday, August 29, 2008

A Down Payment on Our Hopes and Dreams

Yesterday afternoon I heard an All Things Considered interview with Representative John Lewis, a member of Congress from Georgia, a civil rights pioneer, and the last surviving speaker from Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington. In the interview, Lewis characterized the Obama nomination as a "down payment" on Martin Luther King's dreams. And as I think about it, that's such a perfect characterization of Obama's candidacy for the presidency.

This summer, I read a book called From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, written by historian Michael Klarman. The book is a lengthy and thorough review of race relations in the United States. At more than 500 pages, it's no quick read.

But I can honestly report that every time I picked up the volume I was totally engaged. For the duration of my stay in California, my family was forced to endure my indignant readings from the book. As I read, I experienced some moments of great disappointment in my nation. The book contained example after example of the ways in which black Americans have been subjugated, abused, and downright ignored by the laws and Constitution of our country. For every triumphant moment (and there were some), there were examples of injustices so upsetting that I found myself wanting to shout my indignation from the rooftop. From the efforts to deny blacks an education, to the enforced servitude of sharecropping contracts, to the multiple examples of black defendant confessions coerced through torture and violence but rarely thrown out by the courts, I was alternately angry and disappointed in my nation.

I knew about these things, of course. But I was reading this book at the same time that the nation was giving serious consideration to an African-American candidate for the presidency. And the current political reality was at such odds with the political reality of the nation I was reading about; a time less than 50 years ago.

Klarman reviews a staggering amount of material (the bibliography is more than 40 pages long) to detail the reality and complexity of race relations in the United States. It's clear that no branch of American government has clean hands in this matter. From the state legislatures who actively created Jim Crow laws, to the governors who refused any kind of desegregation, to the Congress and a President unwilling to undertake corrective action, and the Supreme Court that moved in fits and starts, every institution in American political life is responsible for the disastrous circumstances of black Americans. And don't get me started on the American public, who for generations actively endorsed not just segregation but the absolute exclusion of black Americans from all areas of civic and economic life; from the life of equality and opportunity that the rest of us take for granted. Honestly, it's overwhelming.

All of this was at the forefront of my mind as I watched Barack Obama accept the Democratic nomination for the presidency last night. Fittingly, Obama took this giant leap forward 45 years to the day that Martin Luther King told the nation that he had a dream. These days, the Obama campaign is called historical by the news media. And, of course, it is. But for so many people the line is just a throw-away. Because I don't think that we really realize just how historical, just how extraordinary it is for a black man to be so close to living in the White House as the American president.

Less than 45 years ago, many black citizens were not permitted to exercise their right to vote. Things are better today. But it is by no means good enough. Today, there are more black young men in prison than in college. 23% of black Americans live in poverty; 33% of African American children grow up in poverty, hungry for supper and a good education.

So given the place from which black Americans began, it is truly amazing to think that we may be on the precipice of electing our first African American president. My son and I sat down this morning and watched the Obama speech together. I wanted him to see this historical moment, even if he doesn't yet understand its complexity. JT attends one of the most diverse schools in the state of New Jersey and there his belief that people are equal because they are human beings is reinforced by his playmates every day. At the age of 8, JT is as color blind as he can be.

Someday, he'll learn that the world isn't as fair and open-minded as he is. When he does, I hope that he remembers this moment in his life. A moment when he sat in the living room and watched his mama cry as an African American man accepted the nomination for the White House. A moment when a nation truly considered just how far our hopes and dreams might take us.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One More Reason to Love My New Porch

We've had a week of cool evenings and there's just a tiny bite to the air. As JT and I played our round of backyard baseball last night, it was cool enough that I actually wore a long-sleeved t-shirt. I can feel fall around the corner and I want to enjoy the bits of summer that remain. After the game, I took a glass of iced tea and a book to the front porch. That's when I heard the ice cream truck and its magical song.

We haven't seen much of the ice cream truck this summer, but when we heard the song last night we were ready. JT flagged the truck down and a few minutes later we were sitting on the porch with a taste of summer in our hands. We had a nice visit as the twilight came upon us. I guess that summer isn't over yet.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Welcome Home

When we first moved into this house more than three years ago, I was thrilled by my new front porch. It's a big porch with room for a rocker and a lovely view of the green neighborhood. But the house is more than 80 years old, and I quickly came to discover that some of the porch floorboards were in dubious condition. A number of previous efforts to patch the weak spots had now reached the end of their usefulness. A substantial renovation was in order and planned for the summer of 2006.

Renovation was placed on hold when I found myself a single parent. For a time, I found daily life more than enough to occupy my free time. But this spring, as the weak spots grew more pressing (literally), and as my father persuaded me that someone could get hurt on my porch, the renovations began.

There are no before pictures, but the porch was so worn at the top of the steps that I was reluctant to stand on it for long. The first step was to remove the worst of the broken boards and assess the situation.
A temporary cover was put in place. It says a great deal about the poor condition of the floor that the temporary cover was already a massive improvement, if not particularly nice to look at.
Once we determined the extent of the damage and that the foundation remained secure, my carpenter and I developed a plan: about one-third of the boards would be replaced by new mahogany lumber. The pillars would be jacked up and the front joist replaced. The side railing that faced to the west would be removed and replaced as was the floor joist below that; the eastern railing would be repaired. The work was spread over a few weekends in the late spring, but M the carpenter was an exacting repairman and his work was simply first-rate.

It was my job to sand the new boards and the older section for a full-scale painting of the porch. Both the new and old sections received two coatings of porch paint. I also took on the task of painting the new railings. JT helped out with some of the tough spots that could only be painted from the flowerbed (perfect for a short workforce). I gave the paint plenty of time to cure and was blessed by some first-rate dry summer weather.

This past weekend, I finished the last of the touch-up painting and bought some new flower baskets to hang out front. The old rocker is back on the porch; I may re-finish it this fall. I still want to find a nice big outdoor rug to help protect the new flooring. But these are small projects that are easy to manage; the hard work is done. In the meantime, I've earned the right to have a long set in the old rocker and enjoy the view from my new front porch.
Meetings for school start today and soon enough we'll be in the thick of things. The refurbished porch will be a welcoming place when I come home each afternoon, encouraging a little relaxation at the end of the day. I am generally house proud. And this porch, which features a good deal of labor from my hands, really makes my heart soar.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back in the Day

When JT returned home yesterday and sighted a bag of frosted animal cookies, he looked at me and said, "I remember these from back when I was a kid."

Aged and infirm though he is these days, he managed to eat some of those cookies.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


A few days ago, I overheard a woman talking about someone else's wedding. The conversation left with me with this overwhelming sense that we should all consider the value of empathy when it comes to living in this world; a world that all too often finds people with smashed dreams.

The speaker was talking about the wedding of a woman she knew. The bride was 41, a mother of three, but marrying for the first time. The engagement ring wasn't fancy or marked with a large diamond. Invitations for the wedding were sent out, but they were confusing. The wedding was at a hotel, nice enough though not an especially elegant hotel. But the groom and bride were in love, or so it seemed to the speaker. What confused me was the speaker's seeming disdain for these people and their wedding. The small engagement ring; the imperfect invitations; the less-than-fancy wedding locale. To the speaker, all of that called the event into question.

But to me, a woman of nearly 41 who sometimes struggles mightily as an unexpectedly single parent; a woman without even a small wedding to recall with happiness; with no tiny ring to admire as a symbol of a life being built together; a woman who is afraid that a happy ending has passed her by... well to me the conversation just seemed so unecessary and so unkind. All of us have our troubles in this world; all of us have our hardships. I am not in the business of comparing on this front. Whether or not my heartache is greater than yours simply isn't important. When people hurt, I sympathize. When they are happy, I celebrate their joy with them. For me it is that simple. To frown on someone else's dreams; on someone else's proud happiness seems downright craven. There is not a finite amount of happiness in this world. Someone else's joy doesn't ruin your own, nor make it less likely. I wish that we could all of us learn this lesson of tolerance and good will for our fellow travelers. We'd be better off if we simply acknowledged that all of us have hopes and dreams. Wouldn't it be nice if they could all come true?

Friday, August 22, 2008

White House

Yesterday, I took a tour of the White House. The list of things that a visitor cannot bring in to the White House tour is long and thorough. As reproduced from the guidance provided us by the White House tour people, forbidden items include:

Handbags, bookbags, backpacks, purses (is that different from a handbag?), food and beverage of any kind, strollers cameras, video recorders or any type of recording device (the Bush White House learned the appropriate lessons from Richard Nixon's unfortunate troubles), tobacco products, personal grooming items (including makeup, hair brush or comb, lip or hand lotions, etc), and pointed objects (pens, knitting needles, etc), aerosol containers, guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size.

Okay, I get that I shouldn't be permitted to bring my stun gun to the White House. The prohibition on guns, knives, and sharp objects also remains perfectly reasonable.

But what sort of trouble will my lip balm cause? Has there been an epidemic of assaults via personal grooming items that I never heard about?

Note to the current occupant of the White House: while I couldn't bring my hand lotion into the White House, at least I brought my brain. It wasn't forbidden, though nobody seems to have told you that.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Supremely Disrespectable

We headed over to the Supreme Court yesterday and got a nice behind-the-scenes tour. Sadly, the actual courtroom is being renovated, thus derailing my dream of a photo of me sitting in Justice Roberts chair and banging the gavel.

The Court's building is a beautiful edifice of white marble. The Hall of Justice at the entrance, with its marble busts of the former Chief Justices and soaring 43 foot ceilings, makes quite an impression. The building was finished in 1933; Congress appropriated $9.5 million for the building and the project came in under budget, with $95,000 left over. That year, the justices used the extra cash for the nation's biggest kegger.

I had my picture made next to the white marble bust of Roger Taney, my nominee for most-bigoted and lazy Supreme Court judge (bigoted because he wrote the Dred Scott decision; lazy because he introduced the idea that the Chief Justice need not write all the opinions of the Court).
I learned that all of the Court was made of materials in the United States. So you've got marble from Alabama and wood paneling from Vermont. But the actual courtroom is made exclusively of materials from foreign nations. Nothing made-in-America in that room. And I found myself wondering: how does Justice Scalia feel about that?

Downstairs was a display of portraits of some of the lesser-known justices. Then I saw a sign for the Supreme Court ATM and vending machines.
Now I have to say that rather amused me, the idea that the nine justices occasionally scare up some quarters in the pockets of their robes and then shuffle downstairs to score a cold soda. So I peaked around the corner to find a bust of Justice Brandeis facing the vending machines.

Brandeis was a remarkable judge, so I'm not exactly sure why he got the job of guarding the machines. But here is the most pressing question, as yet unanswered: was he a Coke or Pepsi man?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Making the Most of My Time

For the week, I am at a conference for history and government teachers. Yesterday, I didn't bring my laptop to the classroom, lest I be tempted to visit ponytail holders at this place when I should have been soaking up the learnin'. Had I been there with my laptop, I would have made the following twitter observations:

9:30 am
Regular people are in awe of movie stars. I am in awe of Supreme Court justices.

1:15 pm
Sitting for hours in an uncomfortable seat is not my strong suit. I think that I have contracted ADHD at the age of 40.

2:00 pm
Is the Supreme Court a modern version of Plato's Philosopher Kings? So far, that's my favorite question of the workshop. And it wasn't even my question.

2:15 pm
Loving James Madison right now. Totally going to rename JT. He's Madison Taylor from now on, but you may call him MT.

3:10 pm
Justiceable is my new favorite word.

4:15 pm
John Roberts is an awfully young man to be the Chief Justice. If he is anything like Scalia, this nation is screwed.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Thin Grey Line

Through the late spring and the summer, my front porch has been under repair. Photos and a full review of the project will be up on the blog soon (once I finish the final coat of paint on the railing), but for now I'd like to share my admiration of the thin grey line to be seen as you walk up the front walk. For more that a year now, the view from the front walk was of the very shabby porch floor, with the remnants of previous haphazard repairs and chunks of rotting wood. Not exactly welcoming (or safe, for that matter).

But now that the replacement boards have been nailed in and the porch floor is freshly painted, all you can see is this lovely, sturdy, uniform, thin, grey line. Every time I walk up the steps to the new porch I admire it anew. I am so very pleased with this home improvement project and I think that the pleasure I take in the new porch is yet another sign that I truly am an adult.

You are hereby instructed to ignore the line of grey paint on the brick steps. Sometimes there is a disadvantage to the employment of an 8 year old assistant painter.

Update: To answer JBro's question, I have a rocker on my front porch. And I do sit out there and rock away.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Failing the Water Pressure Achievement Test

Regular readers of this blog know that I have had more than my share of water-related household troubles. My troubles have always involved excessive water in places where water was unwelcome. But my most recent water troubles did not involve excessive water. Instead, it was a problem of no water.

On Saturday, as I stood under the shower in my bathroom, it seemed as if there was no water pressure. The shower head is pretty old and could use a good cleaning, but this was a problem well beyond that. When I first moved in three years ago, the house inspector had issued all sorts of dire warnings about the galvanized pipes in the upstairs bathroom. As I tried in vain to rinse the soap from my hair I began to panic: pipe replacement in an 80 year old bathroom costs a serious chunk of change.

By the time I finished the shower, I was in full panic mode. Then I checked out the other sources of water in the house and discovered that no faucet in the house had much water pressure. From the basement to the second floor there was trouble. A quick check in the neighborhood revealed that we were all low achievers in water pressure. But there was water flowing in the street ---- a water main had broken.

By the early evening, we'd gone from low water pressure to no running water at all. Down the street were a dozen workers and a big hole in the ground. Reports were that they hoped to have the water back on by midnight. And, in fact, the indoor plumbing was up and running by 11 pm.

Too bad that JT missed the fun. He is always on the look out for a reason to pee outside. When the toilets have no water and can't be flushed, your only option is to commune with nature. He would have been delighted at such an opportunity.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I'm Okay

Last year in one of our after school conversations, JT was interested in the progression of school. He asked what happens after he finishes his school (it's pre K through 12th grade) and I explained that he'd go to college. And after college? I said that he'd probably go to graduate school. And then? So I explained that the end goal is to get a job.

We were walking to the car and he simply stopped in his tracks and then asked the obvious question, "When do I get to play?"

So I explained how a job that you love is like playing. And he listened and nodded his head, though it was clear that he regarded this as so much adult bullshit. The discovery that life and education lead to a job instead of playing seemed to revitalize JT's interest in getting in as much as play time as possible. It's a strike while the iron is hot policy.

And the boy is an amazing, imaginative player. Though he likes television and video games as much as the next kid, his real passion is reserved for playing all sorts of imaginary games. In the summer, when JT's time is unleashed for non-stop play, he will spend hours immersed in his imaginary games. I don't want to suggest a child unable to live in reality, because that's not the case. But more times than I can count, I find my child wearing some sort of costume and playing a game with a complete world made up by him, for him. He'll play the game for hours and wake up the next morning ready to go at it again. He's an only child but has never once asked for a sibling. He expects to make his own fun and he's perfectly able to do so.

This summer, the games have occasionally featured a loud noise. And when that happens, he'll call downstairs and we'll have the following conversation.

JT: Mama?

Mama: Honey, what was that (incredibly loud) noise?

JT: I'm playing. But I'm okay.

Mama: Well please be careful.

As the summer has unfolded, the full conversation has been less necessary. I'll hear the noise and within seconds it will be followed by the announcement: "I'm okay." It's JT's instant peace-of-mind program for dealing with his Mama.

In the next week, JT will be doing his playing at his other mom's house. My house will feel strangely quiet. At first, I'll relish the quiet. But soon I will miss the thundering boy feet, the laughter, the announcements that all is well. This time away isn't optional; it's what happens when a family is broken. To be honest, I've had a hard time making my peace with it. But if it has any silver lining, it's that I've come to appreciate just how fleeting my boy's childhood is.

I'll miss him while he's gone. Over and over I'll remind myself that what cannot be changed must be borne. In my mind, I'll hear JT's sweet, sweet voice telling me, "I'm okay."

I'm okay.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Gold

Pictured here is JT, turning in a record-breaking Olympic gold performance in Cat Petting.
Obviously, athletes participating in Cat Petting wear their pajamas and consider hair combing optional. Cats are supplied by their Mama.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Little Hair of the Dog

Being back in New Jersey (and making the switch back to the Eastern Standard Time), has a tendency to leave JT and me a little stupified. Despite our best intentions, I got up at 10 am yesterday and required an entire pot of coffee to face the day. The boy arose at 11:00 am and moved promptly to my bed for Olympic viewing from a reclining position.

A few hours later, JT could be found downstairs in his pajamas, staring into the television screen looking a little less than bright-eyed as the Olympic athletes demonstrated a greater level of fitness than he was able to match for the day. It's like we had a hangover at Sassafras House.
So I figured that the best solution to this situation is a little hair of the dog that bit us. I made guacamole and tostadas for supper and we agreed that it was a taste of California here at home in New Jersey.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Before we boarded the plane for the trip home to New Jersey, JT and I each selected a giant cookie. We planned to dole out the treat bit by bit; a bite as we crossed the Rockies; a chunk as we saw the Mississippi River in the distance below.

It was a BIG cookie. And when JT first began to eat his giant cookie, he looked at it in front of him and sang, "cookie, cookie, cookie, in its yummy, cookieity cookieness." I wouldn't say that it made the plane ride shorter, but it certainly made it a little more fun.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Real Life Conversations with SWH: Endorsements Edition

The backstory: I'm riding the Dry Creak bike trail with my nephews and JT. JT and C ride fast and they zip right along. S is a more cautious bike rider and he prefers to meander and chat while on the trail. So while JT and C rode ahead, S and I brought up the back, chatting amicably.

S: Aunt Stacy, does JT have a substitute dad?

Aunt Stacy: Well, S, he doesn't have a dad, so I'm not sure what you mean by a substitute dad.

S: You know, like I have a dad and you have a dad. If he needs a substitute dad, I think he should get my Dad or Grandpa. My Dad is a good dad and Grandpa is a good grandpa. So if JT needs one, he should use them.

Aunt Stacy: Good idea, S. You are a wise little boy.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Boy or Fish?

JT loves his Aunty KO's pool and spends hours and hours diving in, touching the bottom of the deep end, and then floating back to the surface. It's nice to see him develop into a confident swimmer who loves the cool feel of the water on a hot summer day.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Trail Blazers

Though I often make fun of the names of the many housing developments in my hometown (for example, is anyone under the impression that the European Village housing development is the least bit European...let alone a Village?), one thing that Clovis has done impressively well is the creation of local bike trails.

The boys and I have taken the trails several places this past week. We took one trail downtown to visit my old elementary school. That same trail led us the other direction and a few tunnels later delivered us to Sonic. The Dry Creek trail follows a local creek bed and heads northeast so that the Sierra Nevada mountains are in view as we ride along the meandering trail of the creek.

The trails wend their way through town, past orchards of fruit trees, neighborhoods, parks, schools, and a local botanical garden, with signs marking the mileage traveled and plenty of shady rest stops with water fountains. Trees have been carefully planted so that in coming years the trail will be well-shaded by crepe myrtles, cottonwoods, and eucalyptus. We saw plenty of people as we rode along. The paths were clean and well-maintained. On every ride that we've taken, I've seen generations of people enjoying their town, the outdoors, and one another. The trail is an investment in the future of this town as a vibrant, successful community.

Plus, it's really, really fun.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Last Friday night, we joined the Sassafras Sister's family and some her friends for supper at a local pizza joint. It had a television and the children ate the meal in total silence, staring agape at the television, as if they had never seen such an invention.

"There are people who move and talk in that amazing box," KO's friend J joked. We laughed, though I later realized that only a fool disrespects the miracle of five silent children.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Sassafras Sister and Her Amazing Appliances

Warning: I'm not sure why the text is screwy.....and I'm blogging at McDonalds with the noise of CNN, the playplace, and the scary easy-listening McD soundtrack as background noise so my diagnosis and repair skills are sadly limited. Pity me.

I have recently been visiting my family in California. Appropriately enough, I
am always impressed by the new-fangled appliances these people have. Electric
garage door-openers; automatic ice makers; disposals in their sinks. But nothing
is as impressive as these two items.
You would be excused if you mistook them for space-travel transport. But before
you climb in to head to Mars, let me advise you that they are a washer and dryer.
They feature an amazing array of skills, including the ability to steam clean your
clothing. And, frankly, I suspect that they could give you an orgasm if you
pressed right combination of buttons.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Gym Rats

One of the best things about my visits to California is that my sister hooks me up with gym passes and I get to have workouts at the fancy gyms my family goes to. So instead of an hour on my home elliptical punctuated by snack requests and conversations with the boy, I escape, unsupervised to the big girl gyms.

The end result of this, of course, is that I get a hell of a workout. Today, I climbed on the Precor at Dad's gym and took an hour long cross-training tour. When I got off, my legs were wobbly. When that machine says you'll be climbing up a mountain, it means business.

All of this will no doubt come in handy when the boys and I bike on over to the Sonic drive-in later today. Never before have I worked so hard to earn the right to a colossal cherry limeade.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Delayed Gratification: August 1st

On the 1st of each month, I take a picture of the big tree in my backyard. I was away from home on the 1st, so I couldn't take a picture of my tree. I selected an alternate tree, but am just getting that posting up today because free wireless....not so much in California. And, yes, I see the layers of irony implicit in that reality.

But this posting is about a tree.

I took a picture of the lime tree in my father's backyard. His California garden has a lot of things that don't grow in my New Jersey garden (in addition to the lime, he grows tangerines, lemons, and oranges). He has some amazing tomato plants that have grown to be taller than I am. Those things don't happen in New Jersey.

But the lime tree is by far my favorite among the offerings. For one thing, it's lushly green. For another, it seems so exotic. I've just finished a book in which lime trees grow in the family garden. Though I grew up here, it's been nearly 20 years since I was a full-time California resident and I can't envision what it would be like to walk into my backyard and collect some fresh limes. So I like that that a tree I would once have taken for granted has become exotic to me.

Update: Finally, a photo. And I wanted to confirm that just as JBro suspects, the Sassafras Parents are big time into the Coronas with lime. That Corona ad you see on TV? Totally my parents' backyard. No wonder I like to visit.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor's Garden

There is a character whom I admire in a book I recently read (Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy). We never learn her first name because her identity in the society in which she lives is shaped by her role in life. Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor is an upper middle-class wife and mother in 1950s India. As was common for women of her generation, she is (by her own admission) largely illiterate, though she is not stupid. Her life is occupied by care of her husband and their four children as well as the family home, Prem Nivas, in Brahmpur, India.

When we first meet Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor, her children are grown and her eldest son, Pran, is being married to Savita Mehra in the family garden. That garden is Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor's pride and joy, a place that she cultivates with as much care as she took in raising her children. Many scenes in the novel mention the garden and it wasn't long before I could picture every corner of Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor's garden in my mind. As I read the book, I kept going to my garden encyclopedia to see photos of the plants mentioned in her garden.

At one point in the novel, Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor is standing in the garden considering her annual entrance in the Brahmpur Flower Show, where she is a perpetual second place finisher. In a conversation with her gardener Gajraj, she considers what it would take to win first place in the Flower Show. She and Gajraj agree that first place would require that all of her planting must be timed to have maximum blooms in February, at the time of the show. But Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor can't abide by such a plan.

Seth writes, "No, no – that wouldn't be a garden at all," said Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor. "Let's plan the winter garden just like we always do – with different flowers blooming at different times, so that it is always a pleasure to sit out."

Gajraj knows that's how Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor will feel and he approves. Like Gajraj and Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor, that's how I feel about my backyard garden. Though it's considerably less formal than Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor's garden, my backyard is a source of beauty and happiness in my world. It's an important part of my life in the spring and summer and I plant to serve my practical needs (tomatoes, peppers, squash, and herbs) as well as for beauty (flowers and the evolving annual garden that I am creating). Some items in my garden serve a dual purpose, like the dwarf fruit trees I planted this spring. I love to sit outside in this place.

Mrs. Mahesh Kapoor and I lead very different lives. But through our gardens I can see the common boundaries of our individual worlds.