Grandmother Rosemary

Updated: Nov 4, 2019


The story I need to begin with is the one I don’t want to tell. But I must tell it because not telling might kill me. And it would be a slow kind of death, not quick.


With a pained, lingering death, like the one I’m describing, no one could tell my loved ones to be glad. No one to say: “At least it happened fast. She didn’t suffer, didn’t feel any pain.” Because it does hurt, this desperate grief, and in that hurting I know that I am still alive. In telling this story, I will live, and I will also remember.


Where to begin? It might have been the signing of papers, although that seems such a sterile transaction of the heart. Better yet, the day we picked up the keys, opening the front door and having the home welcome us like a living thing. It could have been many little introductions—the crickets my husband couldn’t hear in the backyard, all the new sounds to which our ears become attuned—myna birds dancing on the roof, the rustle of wind through backyard elephant grass, a lush and untended terrain that would later be filled with fruit trees and birds and wonderful wild things... much to my neighbor’s dismay. Our neighbor’s is an ordered yard, well behaved and tame. Mine, not so much. It could have been the day I planted what would become Grandmother Rosemary, a plant whose aromatic flowering spikes I used to create magic garlands. These I hung above each doorway lintel to bless and protect our home and those inside.


Grandmother Rosemary wasn’t a grandmother then. She was just a small thing, a $3.00 herb I picked up at the garden shop. I tended to her with care, but not too much. Everyone knows how fiercely independent rosemary is, how proud and self-sufficient, and rightly so. She just needed a good start and loving respect. She’s too big now--too big for me to take--and part of the heartache in losing my home is losing the plant spirit friends in my garden.


On the black day we put our home up for sale, I will ask for their forgiveness. Again. Goodbye my loves. I will say goodbye to the hibiscus who offers me daily gifts, vermillion kisses that carpet the ground. John Noble & Rube Wolf knew her when they penned her lyrics in 1936:


Pretty red hibiscus

I've admired you right from the start

Pretty red hibiscus

You're the flower of my heart

Every day you're fairer

Than the fairest flower that grows

Pretty red hibiscus

You're beautiful everyone knows

Though you may not be scented

Like the other flowers are

But when the day has ended

You're as fair as an evening star

Pretty red hibiscus

I've admired you right from the start

Pretty red hibiscus

You're the flower of my heart


I will say goodbye to the monstera that grew straight out of my compost pile, as if to say, “I can live wherever I choose!” I honored her cheeky nature and let her have the northern territory, sharing the space with bits of witch grass, weeds, and a towering row of foxtail palms that serve as Night Marcher sentries and don’t care much for garden politics. Miss Monstera. The brazen and bold Miss M. or Monstera deliciosa. “In Peru, we call this plant Adam’s Rib,” my sister-in-law told me. So, naturally, I understand her fierceness. I love Eve’s wide, green Swiss cheese leaves. Miss M. doesn’t get much attention, but I think she prefers it that way.


And the vervain… I couldn’t bear to say goodbye, so I asked permission and have transplanted one keiki, a baby shoot and its mother. Vervain is the delicate, feminine side of the garden, a plant ruled by Venus and used in love potions. I will look after mother and daughter at the new-old place, new to me. It’s the place my mother lived before she left Hawaii. Like me, vervain does not transition well, so I will watch them, this mother and daughter, and make sure their untamed flower stalks do not droop. I will sing to them and tell them stories to remember the old house and their friends there. I have already made the rosemary garlands to adorn the door frames of the new house that doesn’t yet feel like home. Grandmother Rosemary’s magical parting gift.


Yesterday, I spent time in the new garden. I planted a rosemary bush, this one decidedly male, and I introduced myself.


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