My mother was a woman of many talents. When I was a kid, she always knew where to find any item I had lost. She remembered the words to almost every poem or song she had ever heard. She warmed up to even the coolest personalities in our little community.
She also raised four children in a house that relied upon a dug well, not a drilled one, for its water supply. This meant we had to treat water as the precious resource it really was. As kids, my siblings and I joked about having to take our baths in teacups.
Our family conserved water as if the next day we might be without it, which was sometimes the case.
Mom grew beautiful flowers inside and outside. We lived on a stretch of land my grandpa called “glade rock.” By this he meant its soil was essentially dust scattered across stone slabs. A horticulturist’s paradise it was not.
But my mother planted a vegetable garden each year. Often it withered up and died for lack of rain, but optimistically she planted one every spring.
She was tenacious
In the yard she grew irises, peonies, lilies, daffodils, tulips, and crocuses that she watered with used rinse water from her weekly washing. She grew lovely lilacs, white ones and, well, lilac ones.
Inside the house she grew ferns, vining plants, and African violets. Her violets, though never entered in a contest, were prizewinners. She had pink ones, white ones, and purple ones; white ones with purple edges, pink ones with ruffled edges, and purple ones variegated with white.
As any grower of these delicate plants knows, violets demand tender care. They require access to good sunlight and need just enough, but not too much, water. Withered blossoms must be plucked so new ones can grow. Dead leaves must also be removed.
But removing any part of an African violet requires the dexterity of a microsurgeon. If during the process a healthy leaf is accidentally tapped or bumped, even slightly, it breaks.
The snapping of a healthy African violet leaf comes as unexpectedly and unwelcomely as a paper cut. The sound it makes is one-of-a-kind, unmistakable.
My mother lived by the motto: If you think you may have broken an African violet leaf, you have.
She applied this proverb to more than the tending of her houseplants.
Her goal was to hurt no one, not her friends, her sisters, or her children. Her ears were ever cocked, listening for the snap indicating harm had been done.
If she suspected she might have wounded one of the people she loved, she reacted as if she indeed had. She couldn’t run fast enough to make an apology and restore kinship.
She knew that, unlike leaves on violets, relationships can be mended if addressed quickly and with love.
Never doubt that she pruned her kids. She diligently plucked from us any hint of disrespect, disobedience, and every other ugly thing.
But as she removed what was bad in us, she meticulously protected what was good.
And she never broke us, emotionally or any other way.
At a restaurant recently, I watched a bully who was masquerading as a dad. He snapped at his young son, “I’ll beat that kind of attitude right out of you.”
This man needed the lesson of the violet leaf.
We all do.