Sunday, February 07, 2010

Here's to you, Mrs. Lipovic

I have two paperwhite bulbs on my windowsill, one past blooming and the other about to. I had never really though about plants' ability to make water and carbon dioxide into stems, roots, and flowers. I think I had assumed that they got most of their substance from the soil, like I do from food. But I give these bulbs nothing more than water, air, and a not-very-sunny window, and they go from dry oniony things to blooming green plants. The process is just amazing.

In high school I tutored an eleven-year-old refugee who had moved from Bosnia to Germany to Virginia with her family. They had lived on a farm at one point, and she spoke longingly of the open space and the flock of chickens she had charge of. They lived in a stark apartment complex full of other refugees from Eastern Europe and Africa. The streets had pretentious English names like Regency Drive and Nottingham Village Lane, but you never heard anyone speaking English there. There were no trees. The girl's mother, Mrs. Lipovic, looked worn and gray but always had candy and a vase of plastic flowers on the donated coffee table. I wanted to give her flower seeds, blue morning glories that could grow huge and rambling around the door of their cheerless apartment, but Mom explained that their landlord might not take kindly to that. I didn't want to give her a potted plant for fear it would die (like potted plants seem to do most of the time) and embarrass her.

Now it seems so obvious - I should have given her paperwhite bulbs. They only cost a dollar, and they're nearly impossible to kill. When I look at them, I always think of Mrs. Lipovic in her dreary apartment in a foreign country.

No comments: