The day after my great-grandfather died, my great-grandmother moved into her daughter’s home. That was long before I was born, but I spent many a summer day in that house as a young girl. It was a small 2 bedroom, 1 bath house with a clothes line in the back yard and a washing machine in the basement. My mother was a teen-aged girl, in high school. And just like that, she had a new room mate.
I remember the bedroom they had shared with its chenille coverlets on twin beds, pine floor, ruffled curtains and parchment window shades that had crocheted pulls to lower the shades when the sun became too intense. No air conditioning in those days. The thing I most remember was the containers of African violets my great-grandmother perched on the window sills, each resting in a saucer. Their soft, fuzzy leaves and delicate flowers in shades of purple and lavender.
All these years later, I find that I’m a window sill gardener too. Not of the African violet variety, but any plant that will live in a glass of water and hopefully develop roots. I find a generous amount of pleasure and satisfaction in taking a clipping from the landscape, trimming the lower foliage and lovingly placing it in a jar of water in the bright kitchen window near the back door. I check often for signs that roots may be developing and my pleasure is redoubled when that evidence becomes visible. Then I continue tending to the cutting until the roots appear to be hearty enough to sustain the plant in a new home of soil.
My mom used to tell me stories about her grandmother’s gardens, tended by her grandfather year-round. My great-grandmother loved the blossoms, kept cuttings in the house, and donated blooming seasonal arrangements to her church every week.
It must have been hard, heart-breaking, for my great-grandmother to turn her back on an independent life and leave everything behind. Bringing only a window sill garden of African violets. The social customs of the time that predicated that decision are now lost on my generation and those that have come after me.
But the simplistic beauty and joyful task of tending to plants on a small scale, on a window ledge, is a part of my daily life, a trait happily handed down through the generations in my family.