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Monday, May 4, 2009


I’m not a patient person. I’m just not. And unfortunately, impatience isn’t a helpful character trait for a writer. So much of a writer’s time—at least this writer’s time—is spent waiting, thinking, revising, waiting. Did I mention waiting? I wait for letters to come back from journals. I wait for responses from editors. I wait for calls from my agent. I wait and I wait and I wait. And as I wait, I often become discouraged. I keep working on new writing—or re-writing—and I keep teaching and thinking about craft. But still, I always wonder if the waiting will ever pay off.

Lining the windows of our dining room is a small collection of orchids. Most were given to us by dear Mimi, an older woman with whom D and I lived just after we were married. For three and a half years, we lived in a small apartment next to Mimi’s garage. In exchange for rent, we took Mimi on errands and performed small and seasonal tasks around her house. One of my jobs was to water her greenhouse every Sunday morning. I would step into the glass room and groom and water her large collection of orchids. In the winter, the greenhouse made those long cold months bearable. After I had sprayed all of the plants, I would run my fingers along silky petals, breathe in the scent of dirt, and know that spring would come, eventually.

Mimi gave us most of the orchids we now have in our house. But one of them—the largest—I chose for myself. Mimi died almost four years ago. By that point D and I had moved into our own house, and a new couple—friends of ours—had been living with Mimi for two years. When we went out to her house for the memorial service, I stared at the greenhouse where I had spent so many hours, and which was so very important to Mimi, and I began to cry and couldn’t stop. I couldn’t imagine those flowers gone, her collection sold or given away. Finally, between tears, I asked her daughter-in-law if it would be okay if I chose one of the orchids. She kindly agreed, and I chose one of Mimi’s favorites: the hanging Vanda Rothschildiana. Its flower, when it blooms, is three different shades of lavender and as big as a hand.

The last time this orchid bloomed was February of 2004. (Mimi kept track of this.) I have watered it carefully, re-potted it, covered its roots in new wood chips and fertilizer. But it never bloomed for me. I assumed it was because our house wasn’t humid enough. I have a number of other orchids that haven’t bloomed in years. But then the other day, I took the Vanda to the sink to spray it down, and saw, peeking from beneath its narrow leaves, a long, thin bud. I gasped. The Vanda, finally. I called D and squealed the news into the phone. “We just have to be patient,” I said, my eyes full of tears. “It’s a reminder that things will happen when they’re supposed to.”

I’ll admit it—I totally cheesed out. But it was just what I needed, just when I needed it. And I know Mimi would be thrilled, as well.


Amber S said...

What a beautiful story, Kate. How wonderful to have those little reminders when we need them.

Anonymous said...

i love that. the bloom that came at the perfect time.

Mary said...

a wonderful story! to me you sound incredibly least relative to me.

Ines said...

This is a lovely story. Full of hope. Thank you for sharing it with us.
My own cactus -the one my aunt Adriana gaves us when Milagros was born- that had not bloomed in our house since we got it bloomed three soft red flowers just last week. A miracle indeed.

cath c said...

shucks, tears. yes, patience is the most and least of most writer's virtues. most need and least available. thanks, i needed this. i've been working on my ms for years, or not in some years: like the vanda, it comes in it's own time.

Maggie World said...

this was a lovely post. Makes me hopeful on many levels, not the least of which are my barren orchids.

kate hopper said...

Thanks, everyone.

Cath C, I think you're right--it comes in its own time.

Ines, I love that you have flowers on your cactus, as well!

Sally, don't give up hope!

Mary, thank you, though you've been amazingly patient in what I've read of your story!

Carrie Pomeroy said...

I loved that I didn't know where you were headed with the orchid story, but I was engaged by the human detail of your friend and I trusted that the orchid would lead back in some way to your opening about patience. And it did, in a lovely, surprising way.

Wonderfully crafted post!