Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tulips

Some of the favorite moments of my childhood were spent with my grandparents in my mother’s childhood home on Long Island. In the mornings I would wake up early with my grandmother and she and I would sit at her kitchen table, which was always covered with one of those felt-backed plastic-y tablecloths, the kind that are easy to wipe off. She would drink coffee with powdered creamer and I would devour either the sugary cereals that Grandpa would buy for the grandkids’ visits – the kind my mother would not keep in the house – or English muffins with lots of butter and jam, and a cup of tea. We would do crossword puzzles together. She would do the New York Times puzzle in pen, which was rather ballsy of her. I would attempt the Newsday puzzle. We would sit there for a couple of hours, and through the kitchen window in the spring and early summer I would gaze out at the patch of tulips in the front yard while pondering what could possibly be an eight-letter word for “A place for diplomacy.” (It’s “the Hague,” in case you’re wondering, and that really bugged me because obviously it is two words.)

I still remember those tulips, and what they heralded. The end of the long New York winter. The beginning of swimming pool season. I liked to examine them under Grandma’s kitchen window, the way when closed they would look like one flower and the next day, opened, a completely different variety. I loved their beauty in simplicity. When she passed a blizzard struck the East coast and my mother forbade me to fly home for the services. I sent tulips for Grandma and hoped she could see me remembering her window.

In high school I read Sylvia Plath for the first time and lo and behold, one of my favorite poems became her Tulips. “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.” Almost too vibrant to bear. The flowers, her life. The poem was written about recovering from a suicide attempt. Too much, even in simplicity.

My favorite tulip story is a much happier one than Sylvia’s. When my beautiful niece was an infant, my mother and I gave my sister a reprieve and took the baby for the night. There was a bouquet of tulips in the kitchen, and this darling baby’s face lit up like the sun when she saw them. I picked one and tickled her face with it and she gave me the biggest, most pure smile I have ever seen a person give.

Tulips remind me of women who were instrumental in molding me, as a woman and as a writer. I have never done a crossword in pencil, only pen, and can sit for hours to complete one; Grandma taught me ballsiness and patience. Plath wrote eloquently of the darkest recesses of a woman’s heart; I hope I can express myself with even a shadow of the talent she possessed, and she showed me that the chaos and darkness of the soul holds its own sort of beauty. And the woman-to-be, my lovely niece, showed me in that tulip-brushed moment that sometimes the simplicity isn’t too much, but just perfect enough for a moment of pure joy.

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