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Windows: A Leaf from Her Book

Lea Weiss

As we crossed the living room threshold, we were greeted by a jungle. A multitude of pots and planters filled with clambering flora.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Photo: Shutterstock

Ispent most of my formative years in the car. Ta, ever adoring of vast expanses of grass, had relocated the family from Boro Park to Monsey shortly before my birth. While those left behind had insisted they would join us “one day,” they never did. Nearly every week we would swish down the woodsy Palisades while I wrestled with motion sickness.

When we — eventually — arrived at my grandparents’ block, my siblings and I would scramble out before Ma started the endless search for parking. We traipsed along the harsh gray cement, turning in by the familiar white metal fence, then up the red-painted concrete steps. Summoned by our over-pressing of the bell, Babi would shuffle eagerly from the depths of the house to welcome us in. 

As we crossed the living room threshold, we were greeted by a jungle. A multitude of pots and planters filled with clambering flora occupied the territory before the sunny front windows. No neatly manicured display, this; the fronds and branches were messily upheld by supportive sticks, creeping expansively, unrestrictedly. 

Ma herself found the local nurseries irresistible; she’d often triumphantly display a new cactus, succulent, or an orchid. Yet these finds were placed strategically about our house, not chaotically clumped together, as Babi opted to. 

Unlike my older siblings, I had grown up with farmland in the back, and numerous maples in the front, including my beloved “birthday tree.” In mid-October, the lush, sky-eclipsing greenery in front of my bedroom window miraculously morphed into a fiery vista, reds and oranges and yellows. A gift, I decided, for me alone. A rolling park was but five houses away, complete with winding, picturesque pathways through a verdant forest. I took such vegetation for granted and it did not dawn upon me until, well, now, that Babi’s conservatory was a pursued mission.

Photo: Shutterstock

In the years following Zeidy’s passing, Babi would visit our “country home” in the summers. When I plodded home from day camp, I’d find her sitting in the dappled shade of twisting branches, absorbed in a book. I dutifully pecked her on the cheek, and she’d reluctantly wrench her attention from her reading. She’d blink dreamily, then smile absentmindedly before lapsing back into her contented trance. We barricaded ourselves indoors, air conditioner humming, while she remained out there for hours, frighteningly immobile compared to her usual restlessness and chattiness. What was it that called to her so, that she braved the heat and humidity we found so unbearable? Her own daughter could not say.

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