GOING TO POT
Not many trees grew in the town where I grew up. My family lived on a barrier island off the coast of South Jersey. If you dug in the ground to any depth, you quickly hit salt water. But that didn’t stop residents from planting flowers.
My grandmother loved to plant petunias, marigolds, and geraniums in her large front-yard garden. I didn’t share her floral passion. To my nose, the marigolds and geraniums had a foul odor. Though I did like the orange color of the marigolds, I hated the red color of the geraniums. And although I was glad the petunias had no smell whatsoever, the way they collapsed on themselves at the slightest provocation made me angry. I can forgive them for not being able to withstand a garden hose, but even the slightest rain shower was too much for them.
Nevertheless, I did like my grandmother, a spunky diminutive woman dressed in black who came across the ocean when she was a little girl. Near the turn of the century, she came with her family from Naples, Italy. She wasn’t the best cook, but she made sure I had a daily meal. To this day, her acidic tomato sauce still lingers in the back of my throat.
During a string of my preteen years, I helped my grandmother tend her garden. We both were on our knees in the spring, getting muddy while planting and watering. In the summer, my grandmother picked off the plants’ dead leaves and blossoms that were past their prime. She left the weeding to me. I told her, “I can’t tell the weeds from the flowers. Why can’t they just all grow together?”
My grandmother wasn’t swayed from her conviction. She said, “Just keep pulling!” A small white statue of the Virgin Mary stood in the center of the garden. I prayed to the Virgin for inspiration to know what to say to my grandmother, so she would grant me permission to escape the hot blazing sun. Mother Mary failed me.
One time, I saw my grandmother viciously attacking a geranium plant. She was shaking the plant and pruning it down to its stem. I asked her why she was destroying the poor defenseless thing. She spat out, “I don’t want it to go to pot.” I had no idea what that meant, so I asked her to explain. She said, “If the plant makes seeds, it’ll stop flowering.” I felt forlorn that the plant would never get the chance to reach full maturity.
My grandmother didn’t want me to grow up. My grandfather was much older than my grandmother. I was the youngest grandchild, and she didn’t want to be abandoned. She didn’t like the life she led as a fishmonger’s wife. My grandmother bribed me with outlandish promises, such as, “I’m gonna leave the house to you when I die.”
I told her, “I don’t want the house, and I don’t want you to die.”
In the fall, I helped my grandfather dig up the geranium plants. So that the plants wouldn’t freeze come winter, we put them in clay pots and stored them in his oversized garage. My grandfather talked nonstop about how the Old Country was so much better than this country.
As soon as I turned eighteen, I fled my stifling hometown to a place 3000 miles away, where there are lots of trees and lots of gardens populated with flowers that I never saw grow on the East Coast.
After hearing from a cousin of mine about my grandmother’s demise, I waited to hear whether a free house was waiting for me. This aching desire to return to the place I couldn’t wait to get away from came to me one day quite unexpectedly. As it turned out, I wasn’t even mentioned in the will.
But that was a while ago. Now, surrounded by eucalyptus, cedar, and fir trees in a big garden known as Golden Gate Park, I watch the skies while from a clay bong I smoke away my homesickness. Fairies dance in the fog with me. Though homeless, I’m content enough. For unlike my grandmother’s flowers, I’ve discovered the joys of going to pot.
Written By: James Daniel
About the Author: James Daniel has spent the fall semester of 2019 attending Cynthia Slates’ “Creative Non-Fiction” class at City College of San Francisco. James is currently working on a novel called “Straddling the Centuries,” which tells about his near-death experience that occurred near the turn of the century.
Visual Art Titled “Sunflower” By: Steven Salinas
About the Artist: Steven is a young and coming artist exploring various mediums including photography, film, and printmaking. His work explores nostalgia, its interaction with each of our presents, and how that interaction can be used to wield a sense of identity.