Sunday, November 24, 2013
Carrying the Women
My whole life I have carried the women of my family in clay pots. When the first of us came to America from Holland, she carried the tulips of her family, the narcissus of Christmas and the daffodils of spring. To me, the daffodils have always signified hope. Hannah waited until her Scottish husband brought her home to the house by the sea in North Carolina, and began to plant, hiding the bulbs behind the house so the sea winds could not tear at them and we could enjoy them if we ate outside. As a child I imagined her long fingers gently splitting the bulbs, and replanting them so that the colors were present to get us through the winters.
Every daughter was taught to carefully place chicken wire over the bulbs in October and November so the squirrels would not dip their little paws into the ground and gobble up the nutty goodness of tradition. We were shown how to coerce the bulbs into throwing forth a green shoot, then another, then to sit back and await the gloriousness of flower in the cold, then warm sun. These same flowers had bloomed every year for a very long time. I don’t know how many generations before Hannah, and at least eight after her. I don’t know the names of all my female ancestors, but I do know Hannah’s
When the fury of Hurricane Hugo shook our tiny island, my grandmother knew in her bones that this was the storm that would rend our family to shores away. She was like that. Before she packed the china and crystal, she dug up bulbs and replanted them in terracotta pots, which she then distributed to all the women in our family for safekeeping. I was in California going to graduate school, and got a box in the mail. When I talked to Nana, she told me what she had done, and why. She was right. Hugo tore apart the house, the land and the shore my family had known since Hannah. I cried for poor Hannah’s house, my Nana who died that next winter, and resolutely vowed to make sure that the women in my family always had a home.
This year, as I work the earth, still in California, I think of my mother, dead just two months. My tears warm the bulbs, coaxing them to bloom, so I can see my mother’s smile once again. I miss her terribly, and suddenly understand about hurricanes and tradition. I think about what it must have taken for Hannah to arrive in a new country with nothing but remnants of the earth in her pockets, trying to weather the storm life had thrown her, just as I too am trusting the earth to show me hope.