• JC Wing

Beautiful Growing Things

Spring has finally sprung here in my little part of the world. I wasn’t entirely sure it would this year. Winter started early and seemed to stay late. It seems to me that Mother Nature might have indicated a change of the guard and that the new season has finally arrived.

I’m a sufferer of chronic pain. I hurt no matter what the weather, but the cold makes things so much worse. Winter is an incredibly difficult time of the year, but spring frustrates the hell out of me. It’s a huge tease. I’m a Colorado native, so I’m well versed in the way things work around here. I know that snow can show up until late May. I also know that February through April are our snowiest months, but those months are also filled with tantalizingly sweet, blue sky days that hold the promise of warmer weather. The smell of lilacs blooming beneath rays of bright sunlight and the vivid color of tulips and daffodils hint at mornings not covered by frost. Even after all these years, I still find myself foolishly hopeful once we get past mid-March that this might be the year the snow ends early.

2020 has been challenging, to say the least. I was looking forward to this year. I thought maybe things might be good—or had the possibility to get better—when the first day of this new decade showed up. I struggle with the month of January. I have since as far back as I can remember, but I always go into it with my normal dose of sunshine. I’m a positive person. Ridiculously so sometimes. Just because the first month of the year has never historically been the best of the twelve, that doesn’t necessarily mean that can’t change right? Maybe, but not this year. I can’t present any real proof to substantiate this claim, but I’m fairly sure January lasted for about four, maybe five years. And it was just as surly as it has been in the past.

Talking about things I can’t prove … I suspect the mighty coronavirus visited my household in February. I know there were a few NJROTC competitions in there, but what I remember most about those twenty-nine days was not being able to breathe, sleepless nights, fevers, and unbelievable fatigue. I thought it was the flu back then, but now I think it might have been more than that.

March came, and things got scary. The thirteenth day of the month brought the last day of in-school classes for both of my kids. They continued online as the lockdown took effect. The actual schoolwork aspect of the whole thing never proved too much of a challenge. They’ve grown up in the age of technology. I was almost disappointed in not being able to jump in and help with their at-home learning. Scotty was a junior in high school and Maya was two months away from earning her associate degree. They had things handled. The social aspect—or the lack of it—was the hard part, especially for Scott. March lasted a long time. Maybe even longer than January did.

I’ve never been much into recording myself. I’m a friendly person … outgoing with those whom I’m familiar and comfortable with, but otherwise a bit quiet and shy. I’ve never done Facetime and hadn’t thought much about Zoom before this pandemic hit. Back when Brides, Beasts & Baklava released, I was persistently urged to do some readings for release day. I was happy that readers were excited about the book, so I did it. Three different times, actually, but I haven’t done it since and have been quite content about it. Scotty was recording videos to keep his engineering teacher apprised of his robot-building project, and Maya was attending twice-weekly WebEx meetings for her geography class, but I was happily removed from all of that. I chat with my authors via messenger and email. There are a few people I talk to on the phone, but I’ve never been into the whole video thing. Then I woke up one morning to a flurry of activity on my phone about joining Marco Polo.

The isolation this virus brought with it has been a difficult thing. My family is usually well connected. We all stay in touch on a regular basis through group text—I come from a family largely comprised of very strong women so communication is something we take very seriously—but seeing words on the screen wasn’t really bridging the gap. Our family is a close one. We like seeing each other. My cousin, Anna, came up with a way for us to text, send photos and leave video voice mails to one another. I sighed, knowing my involvement was inevitable, then loaded the app on my phone. I wasn’t excited about it, but I figured if I recorded something and didn’t like it, I could delete it and try again.

I haven’t deleted anything, though. Throughout the months of April and May, I’ve been hanging out with my mom, my aunts and some of my cousins. I’ve gotten to see all the little ones I’m far away from. I got to see one of them master the art of bike riding. I watched as Anna and her family did some remodeling in their home. I even met Odette, the furry footed chick and said hi to Milo the goat. I saw the completion of many puzzles, the sewing of a slew of face masks, the breathtaking view of the sun as it set in the Arizona sky, and the ever-creeping gray in the hairlines of my female family members. I also saw the arrival of spring.

I don’t have a green thumb. I remember planting bulbs with my mom back when I was eight or nine, and I gave the gardening thing a go when Maya was a baby and we lived in Denver. I planted cosmos that bloomed and grew two feet high, and I felt like I had really achieved something. The roses that were planted in front of the house in which I live now thrive only when I leave them alone. Hearty, they are, and independent. I let them do their thing and they seem quite content. I enjoy them, but I only go close enough to take photographs.

I didn’t get that gardening gene, but a few of my family members sure did. I watched videos on Marco Polo from Anna, who now has a huge garden in her backyard. Her four kids started a variety of plants growing in their dining room, and now that they’ve been moved outside, I’m just waiting to see what pops out of the ground. I’ve seen tours of my aunt Nadine’s yard. It’s all so well maintained, well thought out. The space looks comfortable and inviting with patio furniture and lots of pretty foliage. Steve and Laura, my cousins in Texas, have been successfully growing things for years now. They are the proprietors of Howard Hill Vineyards and run a shop called Grumpy’s Garden Club. They sell muscadine jelly and a variety of beautiful plants and Steve sends out newsletters with all sorts of helpful tips. Even my grandmother, Mimi, had the green thumb gene. At least to some extent, anyway.

I remember the red roses in her yard. They were planted on either side of her garage door and they trailed up along the brick. There was a pathway that led from the back of the house, across the yard and to the garage that was lined with cheerful white daisies, and then there were the peonies. They were always filled with little black ants that would scurry all over my hands when I tipped their huge pink blooms. Beneath them were purple grape hyacinths. I was too little to remember whether it was my grandfather who planted all of those things or if it was Mimi, but I do know that Mimi had the ability to keep houseplants alive for years and years and years.

After she died, I bought a shamrock plant. Mimi loved shamrocks, and I brought this one home so I could always have her close to me. The poor thing has had so many ups and downs. It’s kind of in a down phase right now. I wish I had Mimi’s ability to make houseplants thrive. It’s my personal goal to keep this one alive as long as I can.

We’re two-thirds of the way through May. So far, I haven’t spotted any of the murder hornets we’ve all been told are on the way. I’m exceedingly happy about that but still apprehensive about what else 2020 has in store for us. Until the next thing shows up, I’m going to be grateful for spring. I’m going to breathe deep the air that grows increasingly warmer, and I’m going to hope for more Marco Polo videos of my family sharing beautiful growing things.