I’m really not good at waiting. But I will. Some things are worth waiting for, some things you actually have to wait for.
So I waited.
The slow process started months and months and months ago, or maybe more honestly this thing of mine has never really ended. I am always planning the next tattoo. It had been a few months since my last, I could no longer ignore the itch. The itch of that new piece of ink that wants to emerge out of your skin on to your body, fighting to be seen. The need to feel that sting. The need for the outward expression of internal thoughts painfully pricked into existence on your skin in a permanent way. It has been time for a while now. I can say past tense, it had been too long. I really needed another tattoo. I needed that catharsis.
Thoughts of my Grandparents and Great Grandparents haven’t left me. I doubt they ever really will. Though they’ve all been gone now for a few years, I miss them. I miss the old house in the Sacramento Valley that had winter fog on some days that chilled you to your bones and forced you to wear socks. The dog days of summer with flat heat that made it hard to breathe. The neighborhood with no sidewalks. Learning to knit the first time with the little French woman who lived next door. She really just wanted someone to make a cup of tea for. She always had powdered milk. I never really got the knitting down back then, but I learned to appreciate tea and conversation with someone who was really, just lonely. Early days of my Crazy Flag for sure. I took to knitting much better the second time around. I don’t like powdered milk but I still love tea while I knit. Some habits just stick with you.
I miss the garden. It was huge, the whole back yard. When we harvested we filled brown paper grocery bags full of tomatoes and corn and zucchini and lemon cucumbers. I walked down the streets to the neighbors to deliver the shares of the seasons. Pomegranates and persimmons from the trees delivered around Thanksgiving. I got to see gratitude in their faces. I miss that. I miss knowing you were making someone happy for a moment.
The roses of every color. Each one had a different name. I think this is where my named color obsession began. It’s not enough just to be a red rose, that was the Lincoln rose. I remember wondering if they had been at his funeral. The lavender rose Bewitched. I’m pretty sure there was another red named Derby and I think a pink one named Audrey. There were tons of roses all in different colors and slightly different scents. A bouquet of them almost always on the kitchen table that I could smell when I ate my sandwich and Grandpa drank a diet Squirt listening to talk radio while the blue and white stock ticker ran silently on the bottom of the TV. It was usually Rush Limbaugh’s voice on the portable radio. I oddly find comfort in that pompous voice because I get to remember simple times and the smell of roses with fantastic names and I didn’t care about politics back then.
In the front of the unassuming house, the simple 1953 white ranch house there was a porch. The front porch always had flowers growing in the red brick beds I hated to weed. But, the flowers were amazing. Always. Zinnia’s and sweet peas that would grow up the strings we made to climb to the top of the covered porch. People would walk by and comment on how pretty they were. He would almost always then cut a bouquet for them, wrapping the bottoms in a wet paper towel and tinfoil so they wouldn’t wilt on their journey home. I was never taller than the sweet peas, they were glorious columns of scent and soft pastels. You could smell them from the street, a smell of nostalgia. How is it possible to have nostalgia for a time you never knew? I think nostalgia is contagious when you spend enough time with someone, and I borrowed a sense of nostalgia for times and places that were not my own from my Grandparents. I remember being surrounded in flowers. The roses. Sweet peas, zinnias and delicate gardenias who’s blooms you aren’t supposed to touch but admire from afar.
But my favorite flower was the one hiding.
My favorite was the girl in the corner that you didn’t see unless you knew she was there. Hidden off to the left of the front door just at the edge of the porch was the hydrangea.
I remember such strong leaves that reminded me of the bay you make spaghetti with. Gigantic pom poms of multicolor madness that grew into unassuming beauty in the shadows of the commanding roses, softly scented sweet peas and vibrant zinnias.
That hydrangea though, she was a chameleon.
Her flowers began greenish like tea. Then over time morphed into shades of prussian blues and lavenders. This one, she was never pink.
Grandma would have me water that hydrangea. Occasionally she would have me put some sort of fertilizer in the ground, those thin green sticks that splintered if you didn’t start a hole with a screwdriver first. But the magic, the magic was in the nails. The rusted sixteen penny nails I drove into the soil around her like landmines.
Gardening legend or not, Grandma said the nails would make the blooms change color. Kid me loved that I could change the color of a flower. That was power and beauty all rolled into one. Now I know. Truly the hydrangea can be a chameleon of sorts, the blooms acting as an indicator of the soil they are in. Their bloom changes based on where they are growing. They adapt to the soil they are in. They change because they can. They change because they have to, but they are always a thing of beauty. Adaptive beauty I wish I had.
Before I permanently adorned one, I wanted to know all I could about the magic of the “change rose” so I dove into the interwebs to learn more and more about this flower that holds a place of wistful longing and mysterious powers for me. Nostalgia. Now though dammit, I feel like I learned the trick from the magician who ruined it for everyone. I kinda hate those guys. I know now how to do the thing, to force the transformation. I know you can change the colors of the blooms. I learned the tricks. It’s not slight of hand or sixteen penny nails. But it is still a matter of knowing your roots and what they are made of. Acidic soil that could burn or alkaline soil that can comfort somehow forces a change in internal needs. (Really, it has something to do with Aluminum ions, but I was never great at chemistry) The flower, the unique color presented to the world is the result of what nourishes the plant, what the roots have available in the place it is planted. The hydrangea doesn’t get to decide how it’s all going to turn out, it doesn’t know the outcome, but blooms anyway.
Knowing that even in nature some things are seemingly out of control really intrigues me. To be honest it just makes me feel better. It isn’t easy learning to let go of what you have no control over, like your roots. Now, I find an odd comfort thinking how a place can change how you are seen but not what you really are. I understand that your source of nourishment can shape what you show the world. I love that even in nature someone with care, time, and waiting patiently season after season can help to transform you into a different type of beautiful you didn’t even know you were.
Now I have my permanent reminder that the world around me may be filled with landmines, but beauty comes from within and can’t be taken away. I look down at my shoulder and remember that sometimes the most beautiful one of all is hiding, that beauty changes, and to bloom anyway.