Claire and I met at McDonald’s when our now twenty-something daughters were three years old. Claire was new to Louisiana, and I was newly replanted in the state after several years, knowing no one in the town where we chose to live.
I don’t collect friends very quickly. It’s just not my way. But it is Claire’s way – she is like a garden of camellias, with bees of every kind always buzzing around her. Her personality is magnetic, and has a wonderfully calming effect on my frazzled psyche.
She is a godsend.
Her garden is not just a metaphor; she has a green thumb and uses it to decorate the world with plants. One of those plants is the annual flora zinnias. I remember walking into Claire’s secret garden (hidden behind her house where you would never know what fecundity lurked behind the austere brick of her home’s facade) seeing splashes of color everywhere.
“Oh, wow! Those zinnias [I pronounced it ZEEN-ya, the way New Orleanians do] are so beautiful. It must take a lot of work to cultivate them.” I was envious. But I need not have been. Claire shares everything from knowledge to zinnia seeds to love – and so effortlessly.
“Zinnias? [Claire pronounced it the way the rest of the world does – something I did not know at the time – ZINN-ee-uh.] Nah. Just throw some seeds in the garden and they’ll grow. I’ve got plenty; let me give you some.”
“No, no! I didn’t mean that I wanted to steal your seeds!”
“It’s ok. I want you to have them.”
That’s the way Claire is – generous is an understatement.
Time separated us. Space did, too. But somehow, Claire is still here in my life, thanks to the benevolent forces at work in the universe (one of which is Claire herself).
This spring as I was furiously removing wallpaper and repainting our “new” house, Jillian asked, “Mom, are you going to plant zinnias this year?” (She pronounced it Claire’s way.)
I was taken by surprise. Oh, the memories zinnias hold for this humble and confused woman! “Yes, actually. I found a bunch on sale for ten cents a pack and planted them all last week. Why?”
“I miss seeing them. I remember your garden and Miss Claire’s covered in zinnias. I want to plant some this year, too.”
Oh, how much zinnias mean to me – friendship – true friendship – that is, kinship without the “kin” part; my child’s childhood enveloped in color, surrounded by love, and a future of possibility.
That is what zinnias mean to me.
That is what Claire means to me.