When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time with my mother. I was the youngest of six kids, and my brothers and sisters were at least four years older than me, so they were all at school. I also enjoyed a lot of time alone, on my back in the grass in the back yard, staring up through the trees at the Pennsylvania sky. I'd watch the birds flutter around the edges and dive into my mother's stone bird bath. Below the bird bath sat a small stone sculpture of a little girl. I was with my mother at an antique store when she bought it. There's a story about it. I think either I found it and loved it, or the store owner said it looked like me and gave it to my mother.
Whatever the case, it had a broken nose, just like my mother, just like me.
There were many childhood days, during the thick, green summer, when I'd crawl under pyracantha bushes way in the back left of the yard. I'd feel like I had my own secret fort. I can still remember the smells of nature under those bushes, as they changed through the seasons: from just sprouting daffodils, to sweltering red roses, to crisp disintegrating fallen leaves. Just on the entrance of my secret hiding place was the pussy willow tree. I would stand below it and stroke the satiny buds. I loved how their creamy whiteness juxtaposed against the deep brown of their branches. I loved that I could bring a bunch of branches inside and keep them in a vase in my bedroom. They would last for a long, long time.
The other day, I had a nice afternoon lunch with my new friend, whom I'll call Lorna, at her lovely apartment in Paris. Her apartment was like a Zen garden to me: spacious, gleaming wood floors, nothing superfluous, nothing out of place. Lorna insisted that she was much messier, and the apartment only looked this perfect because her new love was coming into town in a few days. I suspect this isn't quite true, as I saw her closet, with everything neatly folded and arranged by color. I think Lorna is neat and orderly all the time. But she said, "Sometimes, I leave dishes in the sink for days!" I believe Lorna was being kind to me.
Sometimes, I just close my eyes so I don't see the dirt and clutter that surrounds me. The bird seed, the kitty litter, the crumbled chocolate cookies. I used to just take my glasses off, but after laser surgery, everything is glaringly, inescapably clear. Perhaps a mask would be best. I could dress up like Zorro. On second thought, the mask would be cool, but the black cape would be covered in cat fur in under 30 seconds. Perhaps I just need a weekly bulldozer, or a fire hose. Perhaps a Japanese Geisha army who, upon their tittering downcast-eye arrival, leave their black lacquered sandals outside my door and spend a few hours sliding around the apartment in their gleaming white, two-toed socks. They would have to slide up the walls, skate along the edges of the bathtub and sink, but maybe then, after all that, my apartment would be clean. And Zen-like.
Lorna had prepared a quiche, full of potatoes and leeks and mushrooms and cheese. She was also excited to use her tea pot for the first time. The one she'd purchased in Germany over a year ago, to match the tea cups she had bought the year before that. But her best friend in Germany had trouble getting away from work long enough to come and visit Lorna in Paris and deliver the tea pot. Thus, the tea pot waited patiently in Germany, until it could come just last week and settle, Zen-like, into Lorna's Paris kitchen. It was fat, and green, and smelled like earth, as all tea pots should.
I had my tea with milk, and sugar, like I never, ever do.
From my place at the table, I saw what looked like a terrarium behind Lorna on the side table. It was a shallow glass bowl, about twelve inches in diameter, covered with plastic wrap. "What is that?" I asked, as my teeth crushed the outside of a baguette, revived with Lorna's secret method: throw leftover fresh French bread in the freezer, take out and crisp it in the oven for three (exactly three) minutes. Fresh, as if she had just bought it from the downstairs bakery minutes before my arrival.
"That is moss from Vermont. I missed it, so I smuggled it here the last time I was home. As a matter of fact, most of the plants in this apartment came from plants I had at home."
And then she proceeded to tell me the story of her grandmother's plant. The kind that has long tendrils with little octopus-style babies. Just pull the baby off, plant it, and it becomes a new plant. Lorna loved her grandmother. So she took a piece of her grandmother's plant many many years ago. Since then, all members of the family have babies from grandma's plant. There were several grown-up babies here in Lorna's Paris apartment. She promised that I too could have a baby from this antique family heirloom. I would be honored.
As I listened to Lorna talk about her family and her plants, I was transported back to Pennsylvania. To my own form of moss, the deep green of our back yard grass. I could smell it in my mind's eye, while I worried, even to this day, that I should be careful not to go barefoot and step on any bees hovering around the clumps of clover.
As I sipped tea with Lorna in Paris, I remembered sitting outside as a child on our back patio, at an antique ice cream parlor table, with its two matching heart-backed chairs. Neatly arranged, with the help of my mother, were two tea cups, some cookies on a plate, and my very own teapot: a Constant Comment tea tin. It was my mother's favorite tea - that enchanting combination of tea and orange peal and delicate, never overpowering, spices. My mother would fill my tin with cold water, and put the top on to give it "time to steep." I would sit, with my hands in my lap, and wait the appropriate amount of time for the tea to be ready. Then, I would ask my doll if she would like some tea, and with her shy assent, I took the top off the tin, and poured us both some tea. There was enough tea in the bottom of that tin to slightly scent the water, and refresh both me, and my doll.
On my way out of Lorna's apartment, after one of the best days I'd had in quite a while, I stopped to stroke the satiny bulbs on a bunch of pussy willow branches that Lorna had arranged, artfully, and calmly, in a tall glass vase on her mantle. In Lorna's care, they would last a long, long time.