The stories African violets tell


My very much-loved African violet

My granny grew the prettiest variety of African violets on her kitchen’s windowsill. I could never keep one alive. Until December 2020.

          Dinner guests arrived bearing a beautiful basket filled with an arrangement of miniature perennials, the main attraction a light purple African violet.

As I placed the thoughtful gift on my kitchen table, I hoped the flowers would survive until Valentine’s Day.

          To my glad surprise, the two red mums and African violet bloomed through Easter weekend. I watered them just enough with our drinking water to keep the soil damp until frost no longer appeared in the forecast.

Then I said a little prayer and transplanted the mums under a French lilac tree in a sunny spot in the backyard.

The small, green pot I found for the African violet fit perfectly on the windowsill above my kitchen sink between two orchids—one pink, and one yellow. There, facing southward, the colorful companions thrived in direct sunlight, and humidity from the kitchen faucet.

Now, Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia experts say the violet prefers indirect sunlight. Yet, velvety leaves kept sprouting and growing into another winter. Stems, buds, and blooms followed. I never thought of fertilizing the plant.

Thankfully, I did know to clip off the spent blooms to cheer on new growth. Pruning seems a steadfast principle for all living things.

African violet experts also say the plant blooms in spring and summer. Not my girl. She’s in full bloom again—just in time for tea with my two friends Anne and Marilyn on a chilly, drippy November day.

Marilyn stood before the sink and counted five stems in full bloom. “My African violets always die,” she sighed.

“This is the first to survive in my care,” I replied.

“I don’t even try,” Anne said.

“Well, this plant came in a gift basket two Decembers ago. And for some unknown reason it’s flourishing.”

“There’s still some buds. She could bloom for another month,” Marilyn said.

“That would be wonderful.”

“I think of Gramma whenever I see a beautiful African violet,” Marilyn mused.

Anne and I waited for her story.

“I was visiting Gramma and wandered off and found flowers so deep and intense an iridescent purple they begged my naughty little fingers to pick them. So I did and carried them to Gramma.”

“What did she do?” I asked.

“She took the flowers from my hands and laid them on a table. We left the room and later returned. I sobbed when I saw the wilted blooms.”

“Did your gramma say anything?” Anne asked.

“Yes. She gently explained I must leave her flowers bloom for everyone to enjoy. She was the most wonderful person in my life.”

Dear Reader, I’m thankful my granny kept her African violets out of my reach for everyone to enjoy. The most wonderful person in my life had plenty experience with naughty little fingers.

Although my sisters and I banged her piano keys out of tune, we never touched her lovely African violets.



Gift from the egg lady



Our six Isa Browns ready to roost for the night

On these late autumn mornings, I wait for the fog to burn off before hen chores. This allows the ladies time to lay a handful or two of eggs for the freshest and most nutritious breakfast known to mankind.

            As I’d expected with the shorter days and cooler weather, our six Isa Browns have reduced production. No more ten eggs a day, nor a surprise dozen, handy for batches of summer’s potato salads.

Even so, half a dozen eggs a day are more than enough for meals and baking. The recipients of our surplus call me “The Egg Lady.”

The only friend who declined a carton said, “I’m sorry, Iris, but I’ve never been able to eat a brown egg.”

Astonished, I replied, “But they’re not brown inside! They’re the same as a white egg!”

She shook her head in all sincerity. “Give them to someone who will appreciate them.”

Very wise advice to a gift-giver.

Truly, when Andy, our late friend and handyman, built our henhouse, I had no experience with hen husbandry. Sure, my mother grew up on a farm and told stories about feisty roosters, broody hens, and fluffy baby chicks.

On summer vacations, when my sisters and I were young, we ran races and climbed apple trees where Uncle Herm’s chickens roamed in the McCoy Bottom. I knew hens didn’t need a rooster to lay eggs. Now, how the hen laid an egg with a chick inside remained a mystery.

However, Andy spoke frankly about the propensity of free range hens to do exactly that on a neighbor’s property.

“Keep it simple,” he said. “I’ll build an enclosed pen on wheels so you can move the hens around to range safely.”

He promptly delivered our “tractor pen” with “A Guide to Raising Chickens” by Gail Damerow. “All you need to know about hens and eggs is in this book,” Andy said.

On page 150 is this piece of folk medicine: “To treat a wound and speed healing, the protein-rich membrane inside the shell is peeled away and bandaged in place over a cut. Raw eggs are also used as beauty aids—whites in facials, yolks in shampoos and hair conditioners.”

I cannot remember Mom using egg membranes for bandages or for her beautification. After years mucking their house, feeding, watering, doctoring, and gathering their eggs, I cannot imagine sacrificing an Isa Brown’s labor for my beauty.

However, that may change as my skin wrinkles and hair thins.

Meanwhile, I find my captive companions waiting at their chute, thank them for their food, and let them loose into their pen. They run to kitchen scraps and a head of cabbage they peck to the core.

Dear Reader, when I saunter back up the ridge these concluding, golden days of falling sugar maple leaves, I look to the west—wave to the long-legged shadow of the Egg Lady cast upon the bright red landscape.

“Keep it simple,” she says. “Give this goodness to someone who will appreciate it.”