Tag Archives: magnolia

Time Travel, by Carole Howard

Back in the day, we wrote letters. On paper. We knew that by the time our friend got the letter – even if we splurged on air mail postage – it would be outdated, but so what?

In the 1970’s, my husband and I were living in West Africa with our newborn, my parents’ first grandchild. I’d write to them faithfully, but by the time they responded to something I’d said in a letter to them (two weeks to get to them, two weeks for the reply to arrive), it took a bit of mental maneuvering to put together my statement (or question) and their reaction (or answer). For example:

I’d write: “Guess what! The baby got her first tooth.”

Then I’d get a reaction about a month later, during which time I’d written three or four more letters home: “That’s so exciting, did she cry? Did she drool a lot? Does she look different? Here’s what I used to do to soothe you when you got your teeth…..”

By the time I read the questions about crying and drooling, she’d gotten four more teeth and I honestly couldn’t remember.

I’m in something of the same position right now because I’m writing this on May 8, way ahead of time, because I leave for a trip tomorrow. You’ll read it on May 23, so all my present-tense statements will be better read in past tense. That kind of time-disconnect wasn’t particularly odd back then, it’s just the way things were. Now it’s a little odd. So let’s pretend we’re “back in the day.”

Dear Blog-Reader,

We’re leaving on a great trip tomorrow with friends of ours that you don’t know. First we’ll be staying in a house with them in Puglia, Italy – think OLIVE OIL – then we take an overnight ferry to Dubrovnik (Croatia’s a brand new country for me) and board a boat for some hiking and sailing along the coast. Back to Rome for one night, then home.

By the time we get home, it better be warm enough to plant our garden! You wouldn’t believe how weird this winter has been. Unnaturally warm, then plunging right down into freezing, and now gradually warming up again. Remember that magnolia in front of the house? The one that has bloomed for 32 years straight? This year, it produced buds, then blossoms…… and then came a killing frost. All the flowers died. Or so we thought. Now we have a regrowth, which delights me even more than the annual blossom-fireworks. I’m enclosing a photo.

I’ll write when I’m back and tell you about the trip. And I hope there will be a letter from you waiting for me!

Arrivederi and Dovidenja,

Carole

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Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, a murder mystery with a musical undertone, set in West Africa.

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A Love Letter to My Magnolia, by Carole Howard

Back in P.S. 106, in the Bronx, I learned that the magnolia is the only tree that gets its flowers before its leaves. I think it was Mrs. Sills who taught us that little nugget in 3rd grade, though I can’t be sure. It’s amazing that I remember it at all.  But there’s another reason that magnolias are special — to me, at any rate.

In 1984, my husband Geoffrey was in the hospital for a month. His illness wasn’t life-threatening, but it did require time to kill all the little beasties that had taken up residence. (Remnants of his long-ago days as a Peace Corps Volunteer, perhaps.)

While he was the sick one, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for me, either, as anyone who’s ever been a caregiver knows. I went to the hospital every day with magazines, treats and moral support, and with whatever good cheer and/or firmness was necessary to run interference with doctors and nurses.

“I’m here, I’ll shave him, you don’t have to do it.”

“I absolutely insist the tropical disease specialist include Geoffrey on his rounds. Today!”

“Would you like some of the cookies I brought in today?”

I also cared for our daughter and kept our consulting practice alive. I would have done anything to help Geoffrey get better; I didn’t mind any of it. But I was weary.

The day before Mother’s Day, I was feeling rather low, maybe even a bit sorry for myself.   I’m not proud of that, but there it is. I went to my friend Barbara’s plant nursery to buy myself a present. Walking into the greenhouse, with its powerful smell of earth, fertility, and growth, was the beginning of the cure for what ailed me. I walked around and looked at every plant until I saw a perfectly-shaped magnolia. I knew it was the one for me and my mood lifted as I took it to the register.

But Barbara said it had already been sold – “See that ribbon around the pot?” – and I should pick out something else. I cajoled and groveled. I tried to cash in on our friendship. I really wanted that magnolia. No dice. I didn’t see anything I liked nearly as much, so went home empty-handed and petulant.

The next day, Mother’s Day, the nursery truck pulled up to my door with a delivery. The driver went into the back of the truck to find it, and I felt a kind of pre-gratitude. I gave myself a peptalk: “Ok, it’s not the magnolia, but it’s so nice to have been thought of.”

When he emerged, I was overjoyed: It was MY magnolia. It turns out that Geoffrey, the day before my visit to the greenhouse, had called Barbara from the hospital and asked her to “pick out the nicest thing in the place for Carole.” And, amazingly, Barbara had picked out MY magnolia before I did. When I came shopping and picked out the same one, she knew. All the time I was cajoling and groveling, she must have been smiling inside, maybe even thinking of The Gift of the Magi. This story still gives me chills.

This year, the magnolia bloomed very late. But I knew it eventually would, as it has for the past 30 years. Its tender-pink flowers are as glorious as a burst of fireworks. To me, they are fireworks: joyous, boisterous, celebratory.

magnolia copy

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Carole Howard lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York State.  She is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.

 

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