Once upon a time…my great-grandparents and grandfather owned a commercial nursery business in Atlanta. Of course, I never realized that it was a business, I just thought that my family enjoyed growing things, and other people enjoyed coming over to see the flowers. My family maintained three greenhouses, all put in place in the late 1940’s, full of every imaginable flower, although it’s the geraniums that fill my memories.
There’s magic in a greenhouse. There’s light, and beauty, and heat, and perfume that will knock you off your feet. Walking into a steamy, geranium-filled greenhouse on a cold, dreary January day leaves a lasting glow on your soul.
Twenty years after the death of my great-grandmother, there is only one greenhouse still standing. A fallen tree destroyed the other two, and my grandfather just was not able to maintain the remaining greenhouse in its former glory during the last years of his life. But even with it’s broken panes of glass, so lovlingly sealed with the stapled-on bags from potting soil, even with the weeds growing in the corners, and the vents slightly off-center by the ravages of time, I love that greenhouse.
I spent many hours there with my grandfather in the cool damp late weeks of winter, pricking out seedlings and transplanting them, planning the garden for the following season, and listening to his stories of my family, my heritage, and my self. He could really tell a story that would make you laugh and question at the same time, a natural knack for making you ask, “and then what happened, Grandpa?”
In that greenhouse I learned many things. I learned that it was my great-grandmother who first wanted a greenhouse, and my great-grandfather, Pop, wanted her to have it out of his love for her. While my grandpa was away during WWII, Pop converted the chicken house to the first greenhouse, and I imagine that it was a gift intended to help my great-grandmother get over the grief and fear of having two sons away at war. I learned that the last greenhouse was purchased from the National Greenhouse Company and my grandfather laid the foundation for it in October of 1948. I learned that my grandpa and Pop built the cemented potting table for her to use because the metal potting tables kept rusting, but that my great-grandmother was a bit shorter than me, so then they had to put a 4X4 into the floor of the potting shed so she could stand on it and reach the table comfortably.
That potting table, built for my great-grandmother, was too low for my grandfather to work at comfortably, and in the end, the potting shed was just too dark for him to see. He would often take a flat and seedlings and go out into the greenhouse to work under the light of the glass canopy and at the height of the sand-filled tables, where he could still see a bit, and his back didn’t hurt to bend over.
I like the potting shed. I like the coolness of the earth around me, I like the dampness of the soil when it’s ready for working on the cement potting table. But as I stand there on my great-grandmother’s 4X4, at the table built out of love for her by her son and her husband, what I love most is the presence of my family, there in the shadows and in the streaming sunlight. I can feel them all around me, and I know I’m where I’m supposed to be.
The table is just the right height for me.