Gran’s Violets

If I had a blog, today I would write about my grandmother’s legacy: Her African violets.

Gran's Violets in my first apartment.

Gran’s Violets in my first apartment.

Granny Ruby loved African violets. From my earliest days, I recall the splashes of pink, purple, and white that graced her side tables and intrigued me with their soft and furry leaves. I wasn’t allowed to stroke the leaves without Gran beside me, teaching me how to love her little garden without doing harm. She told me wonderfully mysterious tales of Africa, “The Dark Continent,” where the flowers originated and I loved to image them growing in the dampness of the jungle, sprouting from moss-covered rock faces and the spongy surface of decaying logs. They lived in the same part of Africa known to my hero, Jane Goodall, and that gave the flowers a mystique that holds me in thrall even today.

Gran's Violets in our kitchen window.

Gran’s Violets in our kitchen window.

African violets are finicky, needing just the right amount of water and sun to flourish. I often helped Gran feed the violets and learned how to tell if they were content with their living conditions. Some liked a little morning sun, others wanted perpetual shade. Given just the right amount of care, the plants would reward us with their colorful blooms. It was a boon to me because, with the exception of Gran’s violets, my horticultural skills are nil. It isn’t that I dislike plants; in fact, I love them dearly – from the tiny Easter flowers that sprinkle the back yard in springtime to the tallest oak tree in the forest, plants mean as much to me as animals, but somehow I am not destined to be their keeper.

Because my most earnest attempts at gardening always ended in failure, it was with more than a little anxiety that I took custody of Gran’s violets when she passed away. Not only were these living beings, but having lived with Gran and Grandy for most of their married lives, the African violets were part of my heritage and I was determined to keep the tradition going whatever the cost.

After they came into my care, Gran’s violets lived a nomadic life as I moved from dorm, to apartment, to my first little house on the edge of town. I fed them regularly, scoped out north-facing windows to give them the right amount of light, and I repotted them when the stems grew too woody. To my great surprise, not only did the violets survive, they flourished. I attributed their health not only to my diligence, but also to the love that I felt for my gran. She and I were best friends from the day I was born and it seemed that part of Gran’s spirit lived on in the flowers she gave to me. Many a dreary day was brightened by their colorful blooms and at times when I felt lonely or homesick, Gran’s violets gave me the feeling of home.

A little springtime in the middle of winter.

A little springtime in the middle of winter.

Today, the violets bloom merrily in our Great Room, greeting all who come to sit by the fire or share a family meal. In the winter, Mom and I sometimes move the flowers into the kitchen where they can benefit from the pale sun on its short journey through our little valley. Not a day goes by that I don’t greet Gran’s violets and say, “Thank you,” to Gran for leaving a glorious legacy behind.


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