My grandmother raised African Violets from seedlings to whimsical purple flowers with furry green leaves. On Sundays, we’d go downstairs, to the flower room. Against the wall, there were large shelves, each with a fluorescent light above it. In the middle of the room was a table. On top, were two four-packs with a single, small leaf in each section. Next to the seedlings were a stack of white drink cups that seemed out of place; more fitting at a little girl’s tea party. Underneath the table was an orange bucket filled with good soil.
We sat down on water stained, wooden chairs. Grandma handed me a cup, and instructed me to fill it with soil, remove a seedling from the four-pack, push it in, and pack it firmly around the roots. When I reached into the bucket, the soil was damp and smelled of earth. I put too much in the cup, and Grandma asked me to start over, “Fill the cup only three quarters, so there will be room for water and growth.” I dumped it out and filled it accordingly. Next, I picked up a four-pack, and from the bottom pushed out a seedling. It was difficult, as the roots had grown together, ignoring their separation. I tore it apart gently, and pushed it into the cup. Then, with my thumb, I packed the seedling in tightly.
”Perfect” said my Grandmother, “Now do another one.”
That night, we made 8 African Violet cups. In a few weeks, we’d go back down and transfer the seedlings into a bigger plastic container. Some needed extra tending because the roots were not strong. But Grandma was good at that, whispering softly to the seedling, under the harsh fluorescent lights. In another few weeks, the leaves were remarkably larger and the beginnings of a flower bud emerged. The dirt under my fingernails was of no consequence when I saw the first petals.
More often than not, I’ve wanted the full bloom of the African Violet in my life. But I forgot to get my hands dirty and didn’t pack the seedling. Sometimes, I shouted harshly when I should have whispered. Other times, I’ve left things in the dark, when they needed a strong light. I glance at the African Violet on my dining room table, and realize all along, my Grandmother was there, to help me go from seedling to bloom. This I believe, her time spent with me planting African Violets went further than words ever would.
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