Some of my earliest memories of a garden are with my neighbor in her backyard.
Hers was the one with lovely flowers that bloomed on the east side of the house. Not accessible from the street, one had to be neighbors to reach the snapdragons, fuchsias, camellias and all flowering bushes that gave birth each year to a panorama of color.
This was especially important to me around May Day, when we made baskets at school from woven pieces of construction paper, then went home to fill them for our mothers. We only had calla lilies and geraniums; not my favorites, especially compared to the camellias and the choices next door. So, I always made a beeline to my Italian neighbor‘s house where I could choose something pretty to fill my basket. She was my second mother, so was agreeable and made sure I had the prettiest blossoms for Mom’s basket.
I was outside often with her, as she went back and forth to the laundry room that was then adjacent to the garage. In between, she was tending her yard, pulling unwanted weeds and shoots from around the rocks of the fish pond or along the back fence. These were city lots, so sometimes it was very hard to tell where a plant began and where it soon claimed jurisdiction in one’s yard. Her back fence was a small, narrow area; not more than four foot wide before it relied on the garage to continue as the permanent marker of the back property line.
But where the dirt lay beneath the fence boards also lay the roots of a passion vine. This was a very miraculous flower, made more so by the legend that my neighbor shared with me in her Italian-accented English.
I was immediately enamored of this vine. The flower petals were a tinged blue on white, in some places suggesting a violet to deeper purple shade. The center was deeper still and when she explained it represented the crown of thorns that lay on Jesus’ brow, I was very taken by such a plant that spoke of an historical event! This was the tip of the mysteries that I would grow to accept as a young Catholic child, but it was one of my favorites. I looked deeply into the blossoms, as though the more I stared, the more I’d experience the passion that emanated from its story.
The vine would reappear each spring, somewhat leggy at first, and then eventually spill its beauty across the fence boards. The location was one that I had to seek out; it was not easily visible and, as I grew older I could easily forget to walk around the Mechanic’s garage; somehow, like God, I just knew He and It existed, whether I visited or not with Him or His Vine.
So, it was several years before I realized that the vine was completely gone, and the garden spot wherein I had first encountered the meaning of passion was no more; most likely removed by a new property owner who didn’t comprehend the sorrowful beauty in the blossoms’ tale.
How wonderful that God would grace us with such a beautiful, living memorial for such a horrid, painful death. In my childlike heart, I believed God wanted us to remember His Son’s pain, but spared us the true horror by minimizing the truth in the beauty of that blossom. I had no idea that it was early explorers and missionaries who had given the blossom its legend, specifically to explain the death of Christ in their efforts to convert native peoples.
A caring, accented voice had certainly shared the vine’s story with this teachable child…So be it.