Friday, April 10, 2009


There's a wisteria tree on my route to the Collège des vignes. That is, it's not actually a wisteria tree; it's a tree that's been taken over, overrun, by wisteria. This week when spring has burst upon us, the entire tree, all 20 or 30 feet of it, is covered in purple blossoms. It's quite a sight.

It caught my eye today on my way to collect the girls. Wisteria is a plant about which my family has nothing kind to say. As in, it will take over everything. As in, if you're lucky, it will give out. As in, if you plant it and know what it is, you deserve what you get. They're not much for vines, my family. Too many days spent pulling morning glory vines out of cotton fields. I've always liked it, though, doubtless because I never had to get rid of it. I like how it survives, and how it's purple, how it will go anywhere and make a splotch of color.

When G and E were small, my grandmother still lived on the family farm. My second-eldest uncle lived there with her, and with my grandfather, too, until Granddaddy died. This uncle was a polarizing figure in our family: on one pole, my grandmother, who thought he could do no wrong, and on the other pole, everyone else, who, most of the time, just tried to be civil. He was the son for whose medical school education the family sacrificed. And he was the son who, once he had his degree, rarely came home. Birthdays, Mother's Days, Christmases all went by without acknowledgment from him. When he did parachute in, there had generally been a crisis--unspecified--and he had come home to improve his humor by criticizing the rest of us. That he was living with my grandparents at this point was the result of another crisis whose source remained forever unknown: one day, when he was in his early sixties, he called to say he was moving home. The next week, he had taken over the front room.

This is the good memory I have of this uncle: one day, when the girls were small and we were at the farm, he led us out across the field, through the woods, to a ruined farmhouse. It was covered in wisteria. The vine showed where the house had been--starting at the edge of what would have been the front porch, shooting out across the collapsed tin roof. The house had been abandoned for decades, but the wisteria had gone on. As the pines and wild laurel had crowded in and taken the sunlight, the wisteria had shot out long tendrils along the ground, finding the light it needed to survive.

We all stood there in the clearing and marveled at that wisteria. We wondered about the family who had lived there--I think they were some connections of ours; most families in that part of the world are--and about what they would have to say about their wisteria vine. How it had outlasted the house, and maybe the family as well.

That uncle died last week. He was as polarizing in death as he had been in life and we--who treasure our family, who look after each other, who prize our connections to each other more than most anything else--we are left marveling at the absence of grief. We're hopeful that some sadness will come with time. In the meantime, we're trying to uncover some good memories of this man. Or at least some good memories in which he played a minor role.

The wisteria today was my first one. It's called glycine over here, and, to hear Jules talk about it, it's the ultimate vine. There are four planted beside our front terrace and they are coming along, slower than you might expect. Madame Mère, when she's here, shakes her head at them. If Jules is lucky, those vines will die, she says, and then she goes back to nurturing some other plant, or grandchild, along. I disagree, though not strongly. I like to think of someone walking along the lane, years hence, and seeing a house nearly covered in purple blossoms, and wondering about the family that was here when those marvelous wisteria vines were first planted.


  1. I love wisteria. The purple blooms which are just coming out on the walls of the building were very cheering on my way into the office this morning. (I'm the only person in this morning!)

  2. That's a wonderful post, Madame Marron!

    I love wisteria, I think it's very poetic...

  3. What a lovely thought.

    I'm struggling to grow a passion flower around our garden trellis. It grows like a weed every where I don't want it grow, which makes it really annoying!


  4. Wonderful post, Mme Marron. And I'm so happy to see GG here because I hold you both in equally high blogging esteem!