She taught me so much from just watching her through the bright blue eyes of my childhood. How hips can curve in the most beautiful way, silhouetted in a crunchy maxi skirt, tee-shirt tied in a tight knot, hair pulled into a bun, watering her plants at sundown. Like a real life sized fairy. The way she hummed and nurtured the green things that never responded aloud but silently expressed their appreciation for her tender care none the less. It was like golden light just surrounded her. All the time. To little me she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen and all I ever wanted was to be in her presence. And so I followed her, ducking under the long vines, swatting at fruit flies, watching for spiders, sitting quietly among the shaded tables and taller plants on the long, narrow terrace, always watching, usually barefoot, just like mama.
She would talk to her plants, explaining to them how their colors meant different needs, asking about bugs and other little friends. She would feel the soil. She would gently dust the leaves as she inspected them front and back and knowingly turned the terra cotta pots a quarter turn.
Her burros tail succulent was my favorite. I can't grow them now, all these years later without thinking of mamas huge one that had so many tails. It was a place where I could do no wrong hanging with the burros tail. Forgiving of the thin blond strands of little girl hairs that would snag their long dangling tails, the plant would just scatter little seed pods all over. Mama would smile and showed me to just plop them back in the pot for the mama plant to magically turn each little pod into a whole new long tail. I could spend forever at sunset watching mama water plants on the terrace. Sometimes rain was close by, the weather was cool and she would open all the windows so the thunderstorm breeze would blow in from the old oaks through the dusty summer screens. The rain would soon wash away the chalkiness on the windows, turning all the sights outside green as the glass and window sills all took a good rinsing.
Sometimes mama let the canaries fly in the terrace. It was my absolute favorite. Yellow was her favorite. They would sing and sing. She'd patiently teach me to hold a pillow case just so, and tip-toe, tip-toe and softly, quickly, fast but oh-so-gentle cover the canaries one by one come time to catch them. I loved the job. Back to their freshly cleaned cages. Leafy celery, clear water, pillowcase over the top, goodnight little birds. The beautiful music they would give her for her care, those happy little birds.... When she showered and washed her long brown hair, they would chirp and sing and bathe in their own water bowls too. When she ran the tap to hand wash dishes or make sweet summer sun tea they would sing along. When she had a black cast iron skillet bubbling hot oil to fry cat fish in or music blaring from the big speakers in the living room, they'd be singing. She'd stand - always barefoot - with one foot propped up on her calf, toes wrapped around her ankle just so, cutting and battering the fresh fish, and steak fries, plopping them in the oil, rinsing along the way in the endless running tap. The canaries would sing until they slept and it would feel like I was in a dream that I never wanted to leave.
Alas, I journey through being the all grown up one now, and reminiscing in those tender memories of childhood. I find my ways to pass on the good parts. The sweet. The parts that are perhaps not the most dramatic, significant or life changing but are where my light felt the most bright. The most right. The most appropriate to capture and pass along to my own sweet bright babies.
On my patio, I grow burros tail.
I think about how I could keep little yellow canaries.
And when the kids come out and sit in the rockers under the shade, I make sure my plants get a good talk about the colors of their leaves and little friends they may have visiting. I let my fingers taste the soil. I hope my babies find something beautiful and peaceful here too. I hope they will return to it when they need it most and remember that they too were actually listening.