My grandmother Margaret starts her day by 2:30 a.m. every morning to carefully comb her feathery bangs into submission, vacuum the carpets, and walk the beagle. Like her dog, I too am forced to march along to certain traditions from time to time. Her no-nonsense attitude accepts nothing less–no matter the weather or whether any of us actually want to or not.
Mar. 11, 2017 resembled a tundra in Western Mass. Even so, Margaret made the trek down the mountain from her home at the base of Mt. Greylock to visit the Smith College Bulb Show with my mother and I. This is an event we attend twice a year as we made the mistake of stumbling in once in the past. Once we start a tradition we’re forced to do it until death, as I write about here.
“It was sub-zero temperatures outside as I shoveled dog shit in the twilight this morning, it was so cold I got a headache, but still we must drag this frail old woman into the elements because it is tradition,” she griped in the car as we whipped along back roads en route to the warm greenhouse full of beautiful flowers and happy people. What a nightmare.
The glass oasis of the botanical garden offered relief from the elements outside. I was glad for a chance to play around with my camera in a place that wasn’t so gray. However, I soon found my lens trained as much on my grandmother as on the plants.
The tropical trees and vines stretched above our heads to form a steamy canopy against the glass. The air smelled of warm dirt and lemons. It made one’s heart ache for a far-off island with warm ocean waves buffeting its sands. Margaret sat on the stairs leading into this paradise. The railing resembled the bitter iron cage around all our hearts as we were forced to have fun against our wills.
“Make sure you really capture the suffering,” Margaret said.
Each room held an unexpected surprise, something delightful to examine which would draw out our forced march minute by unbearable minute.
We took lots of photographs of ourselves to prove we met the tradition’s demands. This was the first time Margaret had seen my hair since I dyed it black.
“Your hair is awfully goth, isn’t it? I much preferred that reddish color you hated,” Margaret said.
I personally thought the black hair suited the somber tone of our afternoon as we did our best to remain miserable.
“That’s it, I’m dying my hair,” said Margaret upon viewing this photograph, although I much prefer this bad-ass silver shade she dislikes.
Margaret and I also talked tattoos, as I wrote about in a recent commentary. While she isn’t quite ready for a botanical garden back piece, she says that if she had to get something she would get “Fred”, her husband of 50 years, tattooed on her left ring finger to replace her wedding band.
“Although he’s been making me so mad lately I’d probably have to gnaw that finger off. Maybe I’d get a small tattoo of a middle finger pointing at it,” Margaret joked. I still found it sort of sweet.
I would never admit it, but I am genuinely thankful for our strange traditions. It isn’t often I see my grandmother and I love her stories, odd comments, and the time we can all spend together.
“I look like a bad-ass in this picture,” Margaret said, and I agree, so it is the perfect image to close the story of this tradition, until next time.
I can’t wait to be miserable again in a few months.