We drove late into the night and collapsed in a grimy casino hotel with scratchy sheets and a stale cigarette odor. At dawn we rolled bleary-eyed children into the car for another six hours of cramped travel. “Hurry, hurry, hurry!” was my only thought.
But as San Diego came into view, I was distracted. Lining the freeways and stretching down the avenues were hundreds of open-armed trees smothered with giant purple blooms. Ignoring Erik’s lack of horticultural knowledge, I asked him, “What are they?”
He didn’t know, but later that morning as I sat by the hospital bed holding my mother’s hand, I motioned to the purple blooms outside her window and asked her their name.
“Ah, those are Jacaranda trees.” she sighed. “They just started blooming. Aren’t they incredible? Ostentatious and elegant. We’re very proud of them in San Diego.” She lifted up a bit on her pillow.
“We don’t have real seasons here, you know, it’s 70 degrees almost year round. But everyone is excited when the Jacarandas bloom– it’s the start of something.”
Her head sunk back into her pillow as she closed her eyes. “They’re very messy trees you know. But I love them.”
The morning after my mother died I stepped outside to walk with my sister. Giant purple blooms covered the streets and sidewalks like a magnificent royal carpet. “It looks,” my sister said, “like the end of the jacaranda season.”
Native to the southern hemisphere, Jacarandas flourish in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Brisbane, Australia is famous for the thousands of jacarandas that line its streets and rivers. In the 1930s and 40s new mothers were given jacaranda saplings as a congratulatory gift from the hospital and now a drive through the city marks every home blessed with a child in those years.
At Queensland University in Brisbane, the blooming of the jacarandas marks exam season or ‘Purple Panic.’ Legend has it that if you haven’t studied before the jacaranda blooms fall, you’ll fail your exams.
For my mother’s birthday last week, my sister determined to plant a jacaranda in her own yard. The magnificent tree was a gift from Ruth’s San Diego friends.
Ruth has a fish pond in her front yard that is simply perfect for a flowering tree. After emptying the pond’s sludge for the past few weeks, my sister’s husband Bill and my dad rented a jackhammer to chip through the cement bottom.
Sweat pouring from their faces, Bill and my dad spent an entire Saturday chopping up the cement and hauling wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load into a trailer. But at the end of the day, after clearing out the chunks of concrete and a few inches of dirt they found another 6″ layer of cement.
On Monday, Mom’s birthday, Bill went back to work and Dad went to the fish pond. My dad isn’t a jack hammer sort of guy. In fact, he’s not a handyman in any way. When appliances spewed smoke or cabinet doors hung from their hinges, he encouraged my mother to call a professional. Dad’s hair is trimmed to a precise length, his shirts are always crisp from the dry cleaner (even on Saturdays), he carries a Blackberry and an iPhone and shuffles his work between five computers.
But he wanted to plant this tree.
Discouraged, but not defeated, Dad hired two teenage boys to help. They worked in shifts, hammering through the cement, digging out the refuse and driving the trailer to the dump. By mid-afternoon they cleared out the second layer and began digging a soft round home for the jacaranda’s roots.
And then, they hit a third layer of cement.
My dad sat down and cried. And prayed.
A few minutes later a stranger ambled up the driveway and asked for help. His truck had just popped a tire and he had everything he needed to put on the spare except a car jack. Could my dad loan him one?
Dad rummaged through has car looking for a jack and explained his sweat soaked hair and cement dusted clothing to the stranger. As dad walked to the car with him, the stranger said, “I have something in my car that might help you.” He opened the passenger door and introduced dad to Manuel, a professional jackhammer.
While the stranger changed his tire, Manuel took hold of the hammer and used the feisty little machine to break through the third layer of cement. In just 20 minutes he cleared a deep wide circle opening into soft earth.
Tearfully, gratefully, my dad slipped Manuel a few bills and with his teenage assistants, hauled the debris to the trailer. He only had minutes to shower and transform into his white-collar self, before 30 friends gathered around the old fish pond to eat my mom’s favorite birthday cake, sing hymns and plant the jacaranda tree against the setting sun.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Just wait till you see it in season.
Every time you write something I think I should unlurk to tell you how amazing it is. But then I don’t because I get shy.
But that was amazing.
when i first saw your photo, i recognized it because when i was writing this post, i did a LOT of online searching for images of a flowering jacaranda tree. i finally ended up using the same one as you, but then spent (way too many) hours photoshopping it because i wanted just the tree. not a great job, but the image formed the basis of my first mixed media piece. so this picture has significance to me, and seeing it here and reading about the miracles happening on your mom’s birthday just reminds me that everything just works out after all.
God is with us. ♥
You made me cry.
Will and Joan Turley Family
Michelle, we have those same trees here in Newport Beach, and they are stunningly beautiful! How fun to hear your story. Next year when the trees are in bloom, I will think of you and your precious mother! Hugs from Newport!
I only got to see those one year in San Diego and then we moved. They are beautiful. As are you.
Beautiful post. I love the picture of your dad in his hard hat and jackhammer. What a complete labor of love. xoxo,t
What a lovely story. Thanks so much for sharing it.
You are a wonderful story teller, Michelle. You had me right there with your dad, hoping that the jack hammer would do the trick! : )
Michelle, how many times can I tell you how much I love your writing?
And I love you!
I positively love your writing too. Happy or sad tears, I’m almost always in a puddle of them by the time I finish reading.
I love a man willing to call a good professional. And your dad…well, what else is there to say. Send him a hello from us.
President Thomas S. Monson told me face to face that he no longer uses the word “coincidence” because of his experiences over so many years. I agree with him!
We did experience a miracle or what some may call “tender mercy” on Zoe Ann’s birthday.
I love you.
How can I leave a comment after your Dad’s when his says it all. So, amen.
What a beautiful story. That tree and the memories tied to it are worth all the layers of concrete, sweat and hard work!
I might be in love with your dad.
Beautiful story and images Michelle. You are doing your mom proud.
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Oh Michelle, I love to read your posts. This was beautiful. I love, love, love how you write.
I would desrcibe it as though you were actually able to take out your heart and let it speak.
Your writing is so courageous and intimate. You are the kind of writer I want to be. Raw emotion with a very unique-only-to-you sensitive touch.
Honestly, I feel like I would know a story of yours anywhere!
You touch my spirit, particularly with this one.