While most of the schools in our area have already been in session for several weeks, I still think of Labor Day as the last day of summer, signaling the official start of school, not to mention the unofficial start of Autumn. It is a time of new beginnings, at least for school children and their teachers, and for me it is a time of fond remembrances of zinnias.
My grandmother grew zinnias. I’ve written of them before and of how Yia Yia harvested the seeds, saving them in different colored packets made of tissue that differentiated the various colors of her plants. It was a practical and innovative filing system for a woman who did not know how to read or write. I do not know the origin of the seeds, but, I think they followed her home from a trip she took to Arizona, the only trip I ever knew her to take.
Each spring my father, or one of my uncles, would turn over the soil in a large, circular garden. The seeds would be sown, watered and weeded through the summer and seemed to always reach their peak right about the time that school started – the day after Labor Day.
In those days, we did not know who our teacher would be until the first day of school. Teachers’ names and class list would be posted on appointed doors, we would line up according to teacher, and our schooling would begin. A few days would pass in that hot and slow first week of school as we slowly settled in – and a few days would pass until Yia Yia went out to the zinnia circle and cut bouquets for my sister and me to bring to our teachers. Long stems were cut, the stems were moistened, then wrapped in newspaper, nice and tight on the bottom, loose on the top to let the colorful bouquet breathe. I can still remember those bouquets; their fragrance, their colors, the occasional insect who hid among the petals, and the delight of my teachers.
I can still see Yia Yia and her pride in her zinnias. I think of her in these late summer days, when the zinnias are in full bloom and the seasons are starting to flow from summer to fall, and of the scent and textures of those full bouquets, wrapped in newsprint, that came to school with me in the early September days of my youth.
These are a few zinnias that greeted me in several recent garden walkabouts in this summer full of glorious gardens.
Penny’s garden at Country Garden Cuisine