blog/ Green things/ Personal growth

One Perfect Orchid

Green Thumbs Run in My Family:

[Though this is a food related blog, I thought this relevant in terms of personal growth and outlook]

I have a green thumb, which is something of a miracle considering that I’m a city girl through and through, Brooklyn born and bred. Growing up, we had a tiny patch of a garden behind our house and my mother miraculously produced tomatoes, zucchinis, cauliflower and all mean of fruits and vegetables that theoretically had no place in a patch of green surrounded by concrete.

My mom also filled our house with green things, some hanging, some potted, some that bore fruit or flowers. When I moved out on my own, I did the same. In my matchbox sized kitchen in Brooklyn at any given time you might find fresh herbs growing, trees that began from avocado pits, or pots overflowing with tiny tomatoes or minuscule hot peppers. There was even this one time I managed to coax some soybeans out of a pot of dirt and I cooked and salted and served those tiny green pods with great pride.

Hello Gorgeous! Meet my Orchid:

In 2006, my first book “Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ’40s-’60s” was published to precious little fanfare. It was bleakest February and book parties, events and celebrations were not yet even a blip on the horizon*. To celebrate the book, my mother sent me the most perfect orchid plant in an exquisite glazed clay pot. Her logic being that a bouquet of flowers would wither and die, and that even though orchids are notoriously hard to keep, there was the chance these might stick around for a while. And stick around they did.

I initially hoped that if the orchids lived for a few weeks, I’d be happy. But a strange thing happened, even without proper light or optimal growing properties, the orchids kept growing. I moved them around a few times until they found their happy place, in a nook of my kitchen. I tended to them as best I could bearing in mind that they probably wouldn’t last long since they were hothouse flowers happiest in a greenhouse with constant humidity. Imagine my giddiness when few times a year they’d produce the most perfect linen white and fuchsia speckled blossoms.

There was one year the orchids didn’t bloom though.

The Big Bad:

I very rarely publicly discuss my past battle with cancer, because it’s just something that happened to me on my colorful journey through life. It doesn’t define me, but it’s relevant to this story. Here’s all you have to know- it was horrible.

When I finally started feeling better after months of grueling treatment, I realized something else had happened during this time as well- my orchids hadn’t bloomed a single time.

Back to Life:

It was only in 2011 that my precious plant started producing flowers again. I wept until my eyes were dry in realizing that I, too was alive again and had found my way back to life. Or that maybe my beloved orchid plant couldn’t bear to show off its finery while I’d been in such a dark place. Or maybe it was literally chemistry, my green thumb wasn’t quite as fertile at that point, and being a sensitive plant, it couldn’t grow. Whatever the reason, both my plant and I were eager to join the beautiful land of the living.

About two years after that, I must have been careless and dropped the plant and the clay pot shattered in a thousand pieces. I was horrified, because I’d anthropomorphized my favorite orchid (no, I won’t tell you its name) and worried it would be miserable in a new home. When my mother re-pots her plants, she always says “they need new shoes.” I had no idea what kind of shoes to buy for my now 7 year old orchid plant. I researched until I found something pleasing and then re-potted. And nothing. No orchids, though the leaves and tendrils were fine and strong.

About a year later, joy! Gorgeous orchids every February and again in the summer and late fall. I’m not sure when the plant stopped blooming after that, but I realized that at a certain point, there hadn’t been a flower in over two years. I’d interviewed an orchid specialist for a story who marveled at the fact that my plant had even lasted this long. I shrugged and realized that I loved my plant unconditionally and flowers didn’t have to be part of the equation.

Back to Life Part II:

It’s been a very tough few years for me personally, punctuated by tremendous loss. And despite the lack of flowers, I still lovingly tend to my favorite orchid. I came home two weeks ago and noticed the tiniest green bud. And then another. And another. And I’ve been holding my breath until this morning the most perfect orchid in the history of orchids burst into its full glory. Right next to it is another, just waiting for its chance as well.

It’s been a tough winter so far, and in looking at some of the events around the world and here in the U.S., I’ve been sad and frightened and worried sick. But my orchid gives me hope, that beauty and life and hope can pop up when you least expect it. It also makes me realize that sometimes good things are happening even when you don’t know about it.

There’s the old adage that reminds people to bloom where they’re planted. I love that one, but I also love knowing that even in the gloomiest February, there’s random beauty to be found. So in spite of the grayness of the winter, I choose to focus on signs of spring. Who’s with me?

Till we beet again,


*It was in July of that year that Henri Bendel’s in NYC dedicated a full week’s celebration to Hello Gorgeous! including the 5th Avenue windows and first floor decorated Hello Gorgeous! style with the makeup counters, sales staff and entire layout transformed into a midcentury wonderland. Then came of flurry of attention and awards including NY Public Library book of the year/book for the teen age, but in February of that year, there was bupkes.

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