violets, part I: a mother’s day story

The day begins with violets. The tradition of picking violets for my mother started when my first nephew was four years old, long before I was a mother myself. One early Mother’s Day morning, I took Luis José to walk my parent’s dogs in the neighborhood park. The park had a section that was ignored by the landscapers and thus was wild and beautiful. On the edges of the manicured sports fields and running track, there was a small forest with big boulders spread around. Luis José loved to climb the smooth rocks that felt gigantic to him. There was a well-worn dirt path that ran down into the park from the tiny forest. It ran down and then up, like a roller coaster track. It was great fun to run down at full speed and so Luis José, the dogs and me ran down and suddenly found ourselves in a leafy hollow that was filled with wild violets. We waded into the greenery and starting picking. Luis José, with his brown eyes smiling, proudly marched home holding two fat bouquets of the delicate flowers, one for his mother and one for his grandmother. The hunt for wild violets in the park on Mother’s Day morning became a tradition and when his little sisters and my own daughters were born, they all joined in.

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I taught the children how to pick the flower from the bottom so that the stems would be nice and long. They children searched for the hidden violets in the ivy-covered hollow, shouting out to each other when they found a particulary abundant cluster. The older cousins would help the littlest ones so that they would have a respectable bunch to present to those of the matriarchal line. My mother was the number one recipient of the floral booty. Everyone understood that the violets were meant for her. She was top mom. She got the most. The other mothers got a gesture.

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My mother had a wooden corner cupboard with glass windows where she kept her best china and crystal. She was very proud of that cupboard. It was an extravagance that she purchased as a newly arrived immigrant. Every morning on her way to work, she’d walked past a furniture store and admired that cupboard. So, she made a deal with the storeowner and gave him five dollars every week from her paycheck behind by father’s back until it was paid for. She brought it home and filled it with the things that she thought were the most beautiful.

The little band of cousins would return from the park with fists full of violets. The children burst into the house and clustered around their grandmother offering up their bouquets of white and purple wild violets. My mother would go to her wooden cupboard and ceremoniously pull out her crystal champagne flutes and place each child’s bouquet in one. She would then set them all in a row on the dining room table where the sunlight would catch the etchings in the crystal flutes holding the gifts of violets. Happy Mother’s Day.

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9 thoughts on “violets, part I: a mother’s day story

  1. What a beautiful story, and beautifully written! It reminds me of when we used to pick fistfuls of blue scillas for my mom from our neighbor’s yard in my hometown in rural Wisconsin. Sometimes we’d have a late spring blizzard, and we’d dig the star-shaped flowers out of the deep wet snow. We would also make May baskets with my grandma. We would fill the woven paper baskets we’d made with flowers, hang them on neighbors’ doorknobs, ring the bell, and run away. We’d watch from our hiding places as the neighbors opened their doors and found the pretty baskets. I tried to keep this tradition going with Clara in our building in Loisaida, but the neighbors didn’t understand! We ended up just knocking on the door and handing them the baskets.

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