[The White Moon Flower. Ipomoea alba. Photo: Google Search]
Nature is an Aeolian Harp, a musical instrument, whose tones are the re-echo of higher strings within us.
This is a true story. It happened to me during my last few years before leaving home to attend college in the South. All of it took place in and around my family home on Front Street in Owego, New York. The central theme in this post took place in the Spring of 1965 when I was only weeks away from saying farewell to all those people and places I knew and loved while growing up.
I was a teenager and I had a dream. It wasn’t the night-time dream of sandy beaches, the Northern Forest, Boy Scout campfires, sock-hops or even nymphs who might be found somewhere in my backyard. No, it was something I saw in a film. It may very well have been in Mrs. Lowe’s French Class at OFA, sometime in 1962 or 1963. Mrs. Lowe mixed grammar and syntax with a dash of French culture. We saw a documentary about Maurice Utrillo, the painter of street scenes in and around Paris. I love Utrillo to this day. On another occasion, she ran a film about another painter who loved nature and landscape. I don’t recall who it was, but it affected me deeply. In fact, I think something nearly audible, almost visceral but so very real began to grow within me. I could feel it, smell it, touch it, but I couldn’t see or hear it. Was it the films or my new interest in poetry, the inner Irish romantic or merely hormones? I can not say. I was simply in love with nature and all its minute glory. I would lie in the grass, beyond the Hemlock trees, past the hedge of Peonies, away from the treehouse in the crotch of an ancient Elm, and try to watch a flower grow, or a blade of grass lengthen, or a bee pollinating a buttercup. If I rolled over onto my back, I would visualize demons and heroes in the cumulus clouds, or watch a hawk ride the thermals.
I was thick with love…of the sky, the grass, the flowers and a girl.
One day, I stood on the sidewalk in front of our house. Something was missing. Too much brown. No hanging flower baskets (that are so present in modern day Owego), no color. I only knew of the backyard foliage, but the front of the house was too naked. I wanted something with color, a hue of some sort. I knew nothing about gardening (I only tried it in a postage-sized patch of ground quite a ways from our backdoor…it was a failure.) There was a swing, wide enough for two, hanging from chains in the area to the left of the front door. In the photo below, it was the place above the obvious lattice work. This is where I decided to plant some flowers.
[Our house on Front Street. Porch space on the left, in front of the window is where the swing was located. Photo is mine.]
But what kind of flowers? Roses? No, too much care. Daffodils? No, we had several in the backyard. Then I spotted a seed packet at the local G.L.F. (now called Agway) store. On the cover was a stunning white flower. It was a Moon Flower. This was it. This is what I would plant beside our porch. The flower was a climber so all I had to do was prepare a planting bed, attach string from the roof area and sit back. Soon, I hoped, my neighbors to the east of me would be blocked out by the foliage of my flowers. I anticipated that I would sit on the swing and read, talk to my brother or write a poem. I would use the shadows to steal a kiss from a childhood sweetheart.
So, in late April or early May, after the danger of a late snowfall or tardy frost, I planted the large seeds. I had strung about twelve strings to accommodate climbing vines. Nothing left to do except wait.
~ ~ ~
It was now early May and steadily creeping toward the middle of the month. Suddenly, I saw a problem. I was under a strict time constraint. I was due to be picked up in late August by the parents of my classmate, Cathy Brown. She had been accepted to the same college as myself, so her family asked me if I would like to join them and make a road trip to Monroe, Louisiana. Few Interstates existed in the mid-sixties so the trip would probably take about three days.
With this hanging over my head, I began checking the Moon Flower every day to estimate its rate of growth. The Big Question was: Will I still be in Owego when my flowers bloomed? I found myself going to the Coburn Free Library to find a plant book and inform myself about Ipomoea alba. What I read made me love the as-yet-unseen flower even more than I had while staring at the seed packet.
It is a night bloomer. The petals are very light sensitive and would blossom under the moonlight. The night pollinators, the bats and the moths would do their job in the midnight hours.
But did I still have time, my final ‘childhood’ time, before I went off to college and begin my adult life, to see my flowers bloom?
~ ~ ~
In early June the tendrils climbed. By late June, the vines were nearly at waist as I stood on the porch and looked down. I began to worry. My plants weren’t climbing fast enough.
July came on faster than I wanted. I busied myself packing my suitcase and trunk. I picked out a few books. My clothes would have to wait. I didn’t know yet how bad the humidity and heat would be in the early Autumn…in far off Louisiana.
In early August, I felt heavy and fearful. Butterflies filled my stomach. I couldn’t sleep. I was worried. This is the end of a major phase of my life, drifting past my eyes…faster and faster. Instead of seeing the months ahead as a new adventure, I felt depressed…about saying farewell to my parents and brothers, neighbor friends and my childhood sweetheart.
I sat on the swing and watched my Moon Flower vines inch upward. “Hurry”, I would whisper to them. “Hurry”. I looked across the street at Craig Phelps’ house on John Street. I looked to my right where Jimmy Merrill lived. I looked to my left, to the houses that extended to the downtown. With my finger I traced the sidewalk, across the street, where I had walked to St. Patrick’s School for eight years of my young life.
It was all going to be gone soon. And, I knew, somehow I knew that once one leaves home, it will never be the same again when you return.
The third week of August. The vines had reached the cornice of the roof. But there were no flowers, yet. Still, I held out hope. Perhaps a warm evening would awaken the flowers. Maybe she would be there to watch them almost glow in the dark.
[A daylight bloom of the Moon Flower. Soon the petals will close and wait for the dark. Photo source: Google Search]
One day to go. The Browns will be here the next afternoon to pick me up. I was all packed. But I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to go all the way to Louisiana. It was less than a year after the three civil rights workers were murdered. I was full of dread.
In the end, I was watching TV when the Browns knocked on our door. I kissed my mother goodbye. I hugged my father. I shook hands with Danny and Denny. (Chris was away at college.) I petted our cat one more time. It purred. I wiped away all the tears after I said I needed to use the bathroom one last time.
We walked out onto the porch. I helped to load my trunk. I went back to bottom of the porch steps where my parents and brothers stood. I said my final farewells.
I said I wanted to look once more at my flowers. I went around the porch corner and wiped away the tears that ran down my cheeks.
I was driven away a few minutes later. I never saw my Moon Flowers blossom. And three months later, I received a letter from my girlfriend…