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  • Growing up, I remember my mother would usually have flowers on display in our house. Not store bought flowers, like the ones you find wrapped in plastic at the entrance of most super markets today, but home grown ones, carefully chosen from what was blooming in the yard and placed lovingly in the appropriate vase. My mother had lots of vases that she kept in what had been my grandmother’s china cabinet. There was the tall hourglass shaped one covered in gold filagree, perfect for a single rose. The clear glass bowl that was filled with floating red camellias in the winter and white gardenias in the summer. The squat tulip shaped glass etched with leaves around the rim, so small it could only hold a few spring flowers, like violets or pansies. And there was the oh-so-modern one, a 60’s metal vase with a wide bowl at the top and thin neck and stem. It’s exterior a dull black, the inside, a luminous robin’s egg blue. In the spring my mother would place a sprig of Japonica, Flowering Quince, in that one.

    There was something startlingly new and modern about that particular vase, the very way it’s thin neck would only allow for a few select stems. It was the closest my mother got to practicing Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, that serves as both an art form and spiritual practice. The pink flowering branches set in the black vase were in stark contrast to the more popular flower arrangements of the day. A typical 70’s floral bouquet would feature uniform mounds of carnations and mums, spray painted baby blue or lime green, stabbed into blocks of floral foam. This vase and it’s anti-arrangement seemed like an act of rebellion. Clean lines, attention to the form of both stem and bloom, it’s simplicity was thrilling.

    I grew up in a house full of stuff, which only became thicker with time. When I look at pictures from my early childhood I am surprised to see how uncluttered the house was. Danish modern furniture, shelves with negative space, small alcoves where a few select treasures could be displayed. The silver Aladdin-like lamp. The groovy pink and yellow cat bank with its flattened triangular face. There was enough space around each object that you could enjoy them as cherished mementos or keepsakes. Little pieces of art.

    After my father died and my sisters moved away, my mother inherited furniture and tchotchkes from both of my grandmothers. Mahogany bedroom sets, clay flower pots, boxes of aprons, dining room chairs with broken cane seats. She also started working at Goodwill, where she could indulge her love of bargain hunting, bringing home stray antique chests with cracked marble tops or an extra set of juice glasses. Our house lost that clean, uncluttered look. Closets were too full to be closed, books tumbled out of bookshelves, two or three antique dressers crowded each bedroom. It was a house filled with furniture that had belonged to someone else- each piece too soaked with memory to possibly throw away.

    This is the house that I most remember, the one that haunts me, in both my own habits and fears.

    But the black and blue vase, as modern as the Seattle space needle, filled with promise for a bright and shiny future, comes from an earlier, more ordered time.

    The other day I pulled that vase off of a crowded shelf. I took my clippers and cut a few spiny branches from the Flowering Quince in my own yard. I carefully arranged the stems in the vase and placed it against livingroom wall. In that act of creating order and beauty, I felt my mother’s presence, and the promise of spring.
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