Saturday, May 9, 2020

NY missive no 168 - Flowerpots

On a recent Sunday I washed the flower pots. I held each one underneath the tap outside, and watched the mud splash off them. It took me right back to when P and I were kids, and once a year we cleaned and organized the flower pots underneath my grandmother’s greenhouse (she called it a conservatory). The greenhouse was elevated, and there was just enough height underneath to store flowerpots in rows on their sides (in size and color order) and for a child to move around, stooped double. We wore shower caps to keep the cobwebs off our hair. It was always uncomfortable, but always satisfying when done.

Then we would use a jet hose to clean her patio and steps. Clusters of mud would gather in the corner of each step, so we’d have to shoot the jet spray into those corners until the mud flowed down to the step below, and so and so on down to the bottom.

I shared a photo of my clean flower pots with P afterwards, and said how it reminded me of cleaning Granny’s. She remembered it vividly as well. She complimented three of the pots in the photo. Unlike most of them - the regular plastic rust-red or black ones – these were pretty pale green ceramic pots with elephants and frogs round the edges. They had been left here by H, the woman who lived here before us with her husband Z and their grandson.

There came another memory...the house closing out in Long Island somewhere, and H in tears as we signed the papers that transferred ownership from them to us. Z had re-done everything in the house, from the heating and lighting, to the bathrooms and kitchen, to the shelves in what’s now JNH’s room. I got the impression it had been a very stressful time, but they were so proud of it. And H had loved and looked after the garden. Now, when I do my occasional and amateurish gardening (weeding, tying back the leaning peach tree, attempts at growing lettuce and tomatoes, and the hopeful planting of bulbs), I often think of H being out there carefully tending to the plants, and I think of the woman two doors down, who waters her garden on Summer evenings, her bright sari catching the Sun, and I think of an unspoken connection between us.

Someone I know a bit from previous work has been collecting people’s short recorded reflections of their time under Corona lock-down. In one of these, a man in Bogota mentions the way that the slowing of time has created space for memories to surface. And his recognition – reinforced by reading of Stefan Zweig’s memoirs - that the “only thing that you have is your memories and what you lived, and the things you saw, and the books you read, and the conversations you had...That has made me put into perspective a lot of things we strive for and obsess over, a lot of material things we think we have to have in order to live fulfilling lives.” In this quarantine time, he adds, “We can still hold on to what we have in our heads, our ideas, our memories, and dreams...”