From Orchids for Billie
Marechal Media Inc., 2011
Author’s Note: This is one of my favourite scenes: the conversation between Little Jack and his grandmother in her beloved greenhouse that sets him on his determined quest to grow a rare orchid. I hope you enjoy it.
“You embark on a great project?” She raises an eyebrow.
Slowly, I nod. “But I wanted it to be from me,” I stammer in defence of my secrecy.
“It will be from you.” She reaches for the book. “Now, what is it you wish to grow?”
I flip to the page and point to the lady slipper orchid.
She regards the photograph carefully.
“A cypripedium,” she murmurs thoughtfully. “Those are very challenging to grow from seed. In fact, that is something I have done here only once.” She tips her head toward me. “Very complicated, what is described here.”
I shrug. “Isn’t that what gardening is? Complicated?”
She lifts down a pot for my inspection. The hairy roots with no name. “Why not this instead?”
“No thank you.” I shake my head firmly.
“I see.” She closes the book carefully and steps around the bench to a table basking in sunlight that has worked its way through the rain-moistened windows. She reaches up and pulls down a tray brimming with small green seedlings. “Perhaps these you would like? They grow quickly and are sturdy.”
I nod eagerly at the thick leafy plants. This will be much easier. “Do they bloom big?” I enthuse. They are, after all, meant to be a very special gift.
“Not so much. But they are large in taste. Your mother, she likes the radishes. Yah yah, nice bite they have.”
“Radishes?” I wrinkle my nose. “I don’t want to give her radishes.”
“Then these will not do.” Grandmother returns the leafy green tray to the shelf.
My eyes roam the shelf beside it, to a tray of green leaves topped with bright red flowers. “How about these?” I suggest.
“They’re pretty. They’re healthy. They’re pretty much all grown.” Even I couldn’t mess them up, I think.
“All true. They are hardy and very forgiving.” She places a hand on my shoulder and directs my gaze through the windows now dried to a shine by the strengthening sun. “Just not so rare.”
Every window box I see on the house, every garden by the shed and the barn, has them. My heart sinks.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” I sigh, my gaze wandering back to the green book, firmly closed on Grandmother’s bench.
She flips open the book to the exact page I had marked. I shake my head sadly. This was the perfect flower. But if Grandmother couldn’t grow them, I certainly couldn’t.
“Are you sure you don’t want these?” She again retrieves the pot of hairy roots from the shelf.
“No thanks,” I sigh. “I’m really not a gardener, anyway.” I turn toward the door but am suddenly struck by the sight in the pot she has presented to me. “Have they gotten bigger? And is that a new leaf?” I pick up the pot and peer inside.
“Very observant, John,” Grandmother nods her head. “Would you like to know the name of these before you go?”
“Sure,” I shrug. I had to admit I was a tiny bit curious.
“Introductions, then,” Grandmother retrieves the pot from my hand with a flourish. “Cypripedium, meet John. John, Cypripedium. But you can call it a lady slipper.”
I stand rooted to the greenhouse floor, eyes fixed in disbelief at what my ears were telling me.
“These, John, are what happens when the seeds grow. From this will grow your lady slipper bloom.” Grandmother leans in with a whisper. “Not complicated at all, when you accept a little help from someone who knows.”
I take the pot from her and rotate it slowly, absorbing each detail of its contents. “What do I need to do?”
“For the time being, a tiny bit of water for the deep roots. A bit of sun. Careful tending. That is all. Now, how many would you like?”
“I can have more than one? Didn’t you say they were rare?”
“Indeed they are. But flowers are like children. Stronger and more beautiful in numbers.” She glances at me before turning her gaze to the row of pots above my head. “So?”
I think. Two? That seems a bit small. A dozen? That would be greedy. Four? Six? How am I supposed to choose? I slide my ball cap into my hand and scratch my head in thought.
As I squeeze the bill of my cap, it comes to me.
“Three!” I respond, with an enthusiasm that startles Grandmother away from her counting.
“The Holy Trinity. Yah yah, a special number.” She returns to her mental inventory.
I blush. She is right, of course, but it isn’t the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost that I’m thinking of as she aligns three pots on the bench in front of me. It’s baseball. I have three tries to get this right. If I do, I win for my mother the regular season, pennant race and World Series of flowers that will prove we as a family are unbeatable, no matter what life brings on. If I don’t, it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out. I stare at my new charges, clinging only to my trust of Grandmother’s gardening that this could turn into something worth keeping. With a flick of my wrist I return my cap to my head and flex my grip.
from Orchids for Billie, Marechal Media Inc., 2011 ISBN 978-9867576-2-4 www.FindingMaria.com