The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Monday, March 28, 2016
Personal Reflections ... Photo ...

It’s early spring once again, time for the first-wave troop of bulb flowers (such as daffodils and crocuses) to put an end to the winter gloom. Another member of that little flower-army is the hyacinth, three of which just came into bloom out in front of my apartment house this weekend. These hyacinths turn out to have a rather bittersweet story behind them.

I’ve been renting in the same building now for over 20 years, and I’ve had a lot of neighbors come and go over the years. Two of the longer lasting ones have been Mr. R and Ms. P, who moved in to the apartment next to me back in 2006, i.e. about 10 years ago. They were both then in their early 60s and had just been married; second marriages for both, divorce for Mr. R and widowhood for Ms. P. Mr. R was something of a yeoman lawyer, a fellow who was gainfully employed but never got rich off of it. Ms. P, however, was something of a “lady of leisure”. Her biggest purpose in life seemed to be growing plants and flowers. During her years here with R, Ms. P put a lot of effort into planting a wide variety of decorative plants. Including these hyacinths.

From outward appearances, R and P were the perfect couple. I got to know them and even socialized with them a handful of times. They were both intelligent and cultured, very good conversationalists. Mr. R was from Massachusetts, and Ms. P was a British subject who had grown up in Africa. Years later, I had found out that P had married well after coming of age, to a man whose family owned gold mines in South Africa. Supposedly, she had gotten used to living in a house tended to by servants. Which no doubt gave her time to cultivate an interest, obviously in horticulture.

She and her first husband eventually came to the USA and settled on the West Coast. For whatever reason, she came east after he passed, and somehow met Mr. R. And then somehow they found this particular apartment building and decided to make it their home, pending their finding someplace better. That “someplace better” never seemed to materialize. And the facade of their perfect relationship also began to erode. I heard rumors of angry exchanges and even violence between the two of them. At first it seemed hard for me to believe. Mr. R always seemed to be the perfect gentleman around Ms. P. But eventually, I could hear the angry exchanges myself between them, and I saw the local police come to their apartment more than once.

That was several years ago. And then, everything seemed to settle down. Perhaps they had gone through therapy. Perhaps it was just the wisdom of age and the experience of growing old together, as they both approached the 70 year mark. Once again, P and R seemed like a sure bet.

That was until earlier this year, when I saw more and more boxes accumulate around their front door, and the superintendent told me on the Q.T. that they were getting divorced and Ms. P had found a new apartment and was about to leave R. Just a few weeks ago, this finally came to pass.

The separation appeared to be amicable. Ms. P still shows up on occasion to speak with R, perhaps shares a meal with him. On one of her recent visits, R and P invited me over for a glass of wine. The bottom line was that P wanted to tell me that she had hired a landscaping crew to remove many of the plants that she had contributed to the premises here, but that she would leave a handful of things and hoped that I would be interested in maintaining them, and perhaps even trying to grow new plants or flowers in the spaces where her plants once were. She knew that I also take an interest in gardening, maintaining a small flower patch in the far corner of the parking lot during the summer. I thanked her for her consideration and said that I would do whatever time might allow me.

A few days later, over the weekend, the crew was finishing up its job, and P and R were out with them supervising the proceedings (well, P was really more the supervisor and R the ineffectual assistant). I had gone outside for some reason, and P stopped me and asked if she could give me a quick tour of what would be left. Fortunately I was not in any hurry, so I agreed. She and Mr. R led me around, breaking into short stories now and then about a particular bush or flower (which all looked mostly dead to me). I could almost hear strains of “The Way We Were” playing in the background. When we came to the three hyacinths, which were just barely poking thru the soil on that chilly afternoon, P reminisced that she had planted those flowers for Mr. R, and that he loved hyacinths.

So it’s almost April now and the hyacinths bloom once again. But P is gone and R remains. In some ways I feel sorry for R, since I also went through a marital break-up myself many years ago (so far, Mr. R seems to be taking it well — although he was always very good at building walls and maintaining appearances even when things were going to hell). In some ways I sympathize with P, wondering why she waited so long after the terrible fights and possible domestic violence that she had previously experienced with R. But then again (and I am not the only one here at my apartment to believe this), Ms. P was NOT the perfect wife either. She often became very demanding, expecting to be served like royalty; living previously in a household run by domestic servants with enough wealth not to require your obtaining gainful employment might do that to you.

So, as with most of real-life episodes between humans, the relationship in question was complex and was void of a definitive good and bad side to it. (Perhaps this is an interesting follow-up to my last post on “relationship and the nature of reality”). The hyacinth bulbs still bloom, and life seems to go on. I hope for the best for both Ms. P and Mr. R. I hope they both will find growth and renewal despite the sadness and irony of a failed marriage, a failed relationship. The lovely purple hyacinth flowers will also soon fail and decay . . . but another spring will eventually come.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:19 pm      

  1. Jim, Your picture, as usual, is a lovely one. Seems your plants on the East Coast are doing so much better than ours in the Midwest; altho I just checked ours and they seem to be doing better than they had been a couple of days ago. Here in the Midwest the plants seem confused: Should they bloom or should they stay hibernating. Perhaps the “relationship” of plants to earth is somewhat of the same nature as way the R&P relationship ended.

    In some ways I find it “peculiar” (right word?) that after one marriage each and at an “older” age (let’s say not in their 20s or 30s) they would find it necessary to divorce. Yet, often these days one finds individuals who have been married for longer periods of time divorcing. One can only speculate on the why of such divorces.

    Sorry to hear about the divorce of Mr. R and Ms. P. However, you are likely right that Ms. P. was used to be “served” by “underlings” and couldn’t well adapt to another way of living.

    I cannot resist some of my own speculation regarding the divorce as one sentence of yours struck me as a clue to why they likely divorced. You mentioned that when Ms. P. asked you to take care of any plants she left; then she not only asked you to do that, but also gave directions as how, where, and which plants and flowers to grow. (Or so it seemed to me. You considered her “instructions” as “consideration” on her part [I’m not sure I’d have responded the way you did]). I tho’t you took her “directions” of what and how you should take care of things when she wouldn’t be there any more as very “considerate” yourself of what she wanted.

    Yet, it immediately occurred to me that if she was gone what would it matter should you tear everything out and put rocks there or leave it bare? And thus it occurred to me that while it seems Mr. R. gets the short end of the deal in this human “relationship”, perhaps he is less at fault than might seem on the surface.

    I know someone who will ask (simply suggest sometimes) a person to do something. This person then proceeds to tell in detail exactly how, when, where, and why, to do whatever is being requested. Most of the time all this is simply ignored; it’s easy to do when one doesn’t live in close proximity to the other. It’s a different story when “close proximity” means in the same house.

    I’m likely being horribly judgmental here, but I could just hear Ms. P. making a request of Mr. R., telling him in detail how to do something (say wash the dishes or change a light bulb­­anything simple); and when he did not comply exactly, problems would result. I could also hear Ms. P. giving the same kind of instructions to servants in her familial home where she was raised as a child.

    So, while there are always two sides to a story, perhaps Mr. R. had his reasons for “raising his voice” at times. An interesting thing about human “relationships” is that, while one might request something of another, the specifics of the request are left to the one who will actually be doing the thing requested.

    So, I find myself wondering just how closely you will follow Ms. P.’s directions of what and how to deal with the plants she will leave after she is gone. I find myself wondering: Will she return to check on how you followed her request? What might she do should you not follow her requests exactly? What if you left it fallow? What is you put rocks there?

    When it comes to human relationships, they are tricky things. While one may have reasons for a particular request, in the end the person who actually performs what is requested should be allowed to do things his/her way: Somewhat the same as allowing a plant (or a person for that matter) to grow as it/he/she will grow, whether or not others approve. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — March 29, 2016 @ 9:05 am

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