A Patriotic Geranium– Or, Reflections from Oakland, California

E pluribus unum

October 2020

Alice is inside today. I don’t usually name plants but this one reminds me of the resilient lead played by Ellen Burstyn in the movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Usually Alice is on the balcony of my 5th floor apartment; the 97° heat and sharp gusts of northeast wind make that perilous. This Super Moon zonal geranium* (aka pelargonium), which came from a small cutting given to me by a dear neighbor, is a symbol of hope in the pandemic. She is over a foot tall despite the smoke pollution, fierce arid winds and heat in this unprecedented summer, my first in California. Alice is determined; she is producing brilliant blooms the color of Revlon Fire & Ice lipstick, so popular in 1952, when it burst on the scene proclaiming that women should wear make up for themselves and not just for men. The color was a favorite of Jane Hall whose transformation from a scrappy tomboy into a glamour girl has been the subject of some of this blog. 

I am intrigued by how each sepal enclosing petals rises on its stamen and opens up slowly, tentatively, until several small flowers become what seems to be one splendid bloom. Out of many, one. Alice is joined by a pot of pink pelargoniums and numerous little succulents in window boxes. These are some of my new friends. Smiling faces of old friends appear in pictures on a bulletin board to remind me of all the people I  left in another life 3000 miles away.

I arrived in Oakland in March just in time to shelter in place in a congenial retirement community near from my grandsons. We still cannot visit or have visitors in our apartments. Like so much of the world, we are all in masks (or should be) for the foreseeable future. But what has surprised me the most, coming from a tropical climate, is that it still has not rained. I think of  Dick Wick Hall, my grandfather who loved the desert landscape in western Arizona, as did his daughter, Jane. Yet it was so important to his Oregon wife, Daysie Sutton Hall, that the family travel to Venice or Manhattan Beach, California, every summer to escape the dry, dry climate. California is really dry now, too. But it’s important to be closer to family despite the restrictions on getting together. Once the pandemic hit, adjustment to this whole new world became a full time project. Finally, I’ve been able to get stacked file boxes on shelves so they are accessible; I look forward to writing more posts. 

 Alice remains optimistic though, as winter approaches, even though there is less and less morning sun on the east-facing balcony. In the past two days, four incipient blooms have appeared. Soon her first one (pictured here) will open completely.  E Pluribus Unum. She knows how to do that well. But do we?  

This post is to send heartfelt wishes to my readers for good health and serenity as our strife-ridden nation enters a time in which we must find more common ground. Our survival depends on it. Perhaps we may learn something from Alice. 

Postscript: *Thank you to the late Peggy Little, an expert on geraniums and many other things. We still miss her optimism and sense of humor.

More about this Super Moon plant may be found here.