Sunday, May 16, 2010
Gardenias are the kind of flower that can make a person think: well, maybe God really does love me after all! I didn't grow up with this variety of shrub, as Ohio winters are generally too jarring for the gardenia's delicate, southern constitution--and I really don't even think I smelled a gardenia, fresh, until a few years ago. It was the night we moved into the split-level we'd decided to rent from a former work acquaintance. We'd spent all day unpacking, and thanks to my friend Carmen, who in matters of relocation/deep cleaning is extremely helpful to the point of becoming militant, and her husband, Joe, who is very good at rearranging the furniture in a room a couple dozen times before you figure out where you really want it to go, we were completely moved in. Really, every box was unpacked and put away; the bed made up with clean sheets.
So we were standing there, the four of us-exhausted, like maybe we ALL wanted to hop in and call it a night, when I noticed that there were screens in the windows on either side of our bed. Screens! I was of the impression that homes in Atlanta didn't come with screens, since we'd never lived in a place that had them. I'd developed a theory as to why this was, probably something about the pollen, I thought. Or the humidity, or mosquitoes, perhaps the need to prove one's wealth and power by bucking fresh air in favor or centralized climate control? Whatever it is/was didn't matter, I was just happy to be in a "normal" house. I remembered seeing the switch in the hallway for the attic fan, and had someone turn it on as I threw open the windows. And, in that moment, I became my mother. She loves her some attic fan, as well as unlimited access to fresh air. As a little girl, I'd lay in bed and listen to the quiet roar coming from the hallway, and life was the best kind of normal. That night, in our new home, it was just like I'd remembered: the motor vibration, shutter rattle, the first blast of air drawn in through the screens. It was lovely --calming, cooling--a real throwback to the white noise of my childhood. But there was something else, too. Another surprise, something I hadn't yet experienced. Underneath our bedroom window, on a sliver of no-man's land between our yard and the neighbor's, was an overgrown gardenia, blooming its brains out. Oh my goodness, guys! I yelled. We have the perfect house! Of course, it wasn't perfect-I think I mentioned the dining-room-with-an-identity-crisis in an earlier post--but I sure did love basking in the breeze of that flower.
When we moved again, I took a cutting from the shrub with me in the van, and smelled it a hundred times on the interstate as our old life got smaller and smaller. I think I actually wore it out, like a scratch-and-sniff smelly sticker, and when it finally wilted down to nothing, I cried. I'd wanted it to last forever, wanted to be able to take something with me to the New Life-even though it was never meant to last up there in any form. A Zone 7 plant making it in Zone 5? Maybe in a pot, indoors. Not the same. I didn't want to believe it, but at the same time knew there was no sense crying over starcrossed plant hardiness zones. I moved on to my mother's peonies, and that was that. I've since come to understand that it was never about the gardenia. But what, then? I wasn't ready to say goodbye.
That was a year ago. We're in Atlanta again, in another rental house, smack dab in another transition. And there's another gardenia--this one much less unruly, and so heavy with flowers that I almost can't stand it. I know it might seem strange, me having a crush on a flowering shrub, but I'm in love, and I don't care who knows it. The captivating fragrance, the waxy white flowers that look like they were fashioned out of fondant, the way it always knows just what to say when I've had a hard day. I'm driving the children crazy with gardenia arrangements in every room, not to mention my theatrical proclamations each time we leave the house. BEAUTIFUL! I yell as we pass the shrub each morning on our way out the door, sometimes forcing them to stop and inhale. I feel so lucky, and yet-it's only for a while. We're not always going to live here, that's for darn sure. In this house, this city....on earth. And I don't want to miss a thing, not anymore, so I'm going to savor it all. Right down to the gardenias.
p.s. If you think you don't like gardenias, I just have one thing to say: don't be a hater. But seriously, I want to suggest that the scent of a real-life gardenia is not the same as your Aunt Ethel's cloying gardenia perfume from the drugstore. It is downright intoxicating-so much so, that since our gardenia started blooming, I've been uncharacteristically game for trash duty, because on my way out to the curb, I pass you-know-what and its glorious heaven-scent. Yes ma'am, I'm a regular junkie. My variety of choice: Kleim's Hardy.