I love the movie Julie & Julia.
Swallowed whole by life and her own inability to stick with anything, a young woman full of potential sets an unreasonable goal. She finishes, and of course, she becomes wildly successful. But that’s the icing on the cake. The real treasure in her story is that she found herself.
For years, I aspired to be Julie. A woman who finished an audacious goal. That was before I moved overseas. Now, survival seems a higher priority than success.
The sun shouted his presence, reminding me he would only become more intense over the next few weeks and months. It was early May. I didn’t have a lot of time to solve the problem of my plants. Delicately holding a leaf with my speckled garden gloves, I tilted my head and began to inspect the damage. Are these holes or discoloration? It was not lost on me that I would not have noticed this subtle change on my burgeoning roses back in the United States. Sick leaves seldom plague Knock Out roses.
Container gardening on a fourth floor urban balcony in a Mediterranean climate that promises little to no rain from June to October along with 37° C+ temperatures is an all together different scenario. Not to mention that I am now cultivating European varieties that require time, patience, and craft.
I reach out to my online community: Any rose people out there? Help! Peering jealously onto my neighbor’s balcony, I wonder what secrets she knows about growing roses. I read books. I watch videos. If my roses are to thrive I must become a master.
As I study, the scent of my climbing rose catches the wind and makes its way through the synapses in my brain until they find my hippocampus, the storage factory of long-term memory. Suddenly and vividly, I see myself, a towhead little girl, standing in the garden with my grandmother. I am holding a green watering can in one hand and a trowel in the other. My grandmother inspects roses that seem as big as my four-year-old head. In another memory, I watch my mother kneel as she admires her fuchsia azaleas. The fragrance of memory carries me away from all that is foreign to a place that is familiar.
Flowers. I love flowers. This awareness lifts from the moment into full consciousness. I’ve said it before–but casually, not as though I meant it passionately: I love flowers.
And so, like Julie and Julia, I begin.
I fail. I kill plants. I see my way through test and triumph and discover that I am good at this. Gardening makes me happy.
Memories become dreams which become hope which becomes reality. And although it looks like something new, I am really just finding myself. Maybe for the first time ever.
At the end of a long Greek summer day, I sit in bed talking to my foreign-working husband. Just like Julia, I accept his nudges and encouragement to keep at it. In the process, I find myself slowly, slowly becoming a master. More truthfully, I find myself becoming a masterpiece.
Who knows? Maybe someday when we make our home in the US once again I, like Julia, will unpack memories of a life gone by–of a life that shaped a woman. Maybe I too will stand on the front porch weeping with joy over a ribbon tied package that holds my words in the form of a book.
No matter how beautiful or impactful those words may be, what I know now–what I didn’t know before–is that they will hardly scrape the surface of how it all began with a woman struggling to find language and purpose in a place she didn’t quite fit.
A woman who found herself in a life overseas.
One of the first phrases we learned. Sigá-sigá is part and parcel with Greek culture. Slowly, slowly, we will eventually learn this language and culture.
An important word for sure. Triantáfyllo literally means 30 petals. It indicates that a rose is a rose… but only if it has 30 petals.