My parents are foreigners. My mother is French-Canadian and my father was raised in Alberta,Canada. They immigrated to Los Angeles where I grew up, the youngest of 4 children. Few would have guessed that my parents were foreign except for my mothers' slight french accent and my father's Canadian habit of ending all his sentences with "eh?"
When I was young, I worried that people might think we were different. If my parents didn’t make it obvious, then it was the Bougainvillea in front of our house. A giant, magenta-colored, flashy vine whose name my mother pronounced with French gusto. Its arms sprawled across our rooftop threatening to swallow up our front porch in a bawdy display of unruly beauty.
I questioned its appropriateness. Wasn’t it a bit too flamboyant for a suburban neighborhood; like an exotic Brazilian dancer whistling and gyrating in the midst of a solemn church service? Everyone else in the neighborhood had box-shaped, trim bushes and bricked-in flower beds. l felt like our insides were hanging out on the roof and the nagging feeling that we should tame its disorderly reach over our lives. A tightly clipped arch around the doorway, that would dress it down a bit!
My father was an enthusiastic hobby photographer and the Bougainvillea became the backdrop to our lives. He marched us out to the front porch before church on Easter Sunday to pose in our pretty, new dresses. First day of school, Christmas, First Communion, Halloween, and birthday parties; every single picture framed by the bright, low hanging arms of the Bougainvillea.
My mother loved to pick the dried, paper-like fonds with her fingers. I sat with her on the low, brick wall while she gave the plants a good, long drink from the hose. The pungent smell of wet dirt and steaming cement after a hot, summer day still blind-sides me with an overwhelming jab of homesickness.
I waited for the memories to rise from her the moment she put her fingers to the vine. I wanted to tuck up under her arm like a small bird, immerse myself in the spell that the Bougainvillea cast upon her. Memories of her French-Canadian childhood bubbled up to the surface. She spoke lovingly about her mother, father and grandmother. She was right there next to me, but so far away.
The beauty of the Bougainvillea eventually overwhelmed all self-consciousness and I wanted one in Salzburg, my “home away from home”. I was told that it will not survive the winter in the ground. Instead, I bought a young Wisteria (Blauregen). Ten years later, it rages battle against our raingutters, envelopes one side of the house and hangs from our terrace in a spectacle of dripping, blue petals.
In late Spring, when the Wisteria drops its papery petals on the terrace, it reminds me of our beautiful Bougainvillea in California. When I pick the last petals from the vine, homesickness washes over me. I long to tell my sons about hot, California evenings, about their Canadian grandparents and about what life was like before I became a foreigner.
© Marie Motil