When I was young, flowers seemed to play a big part in my life.
In the small village in northern Lebanon where my family is from, they were everywhere in the spring and summer. I loved the wild flowers that covered all the empty fields. One of my favorite things to do when I was very little was go on a trip to pick flowers with my godmother.
There were the wild corn poppy, the yellow sour “hamaydah,” that you could drink the nectar out of, and the purple “Virgin Mary,” all growing and spreading freely in between olive and pine trees.
On our stone balcony was my grandmother’s favorite flower. I don’t know if I came up with this conclusion myself as a young child, since she passed away when I was 7, or if I later learned it from my father who made sure that the flower shrub always remained intact.
I loved those flowers too. They were quite small, each smaller than my pinky, long and hollow, like miniature test tubes made of one round petal that swirled out at the top. It became a game to put one flower inside the other, making long lines of red. This game developed into a skill later on, though I don’t know who it was that taught me. I was given a needle and a piece of fine string and was told to thread my line of red flowers through them (being very careful with the needle), turning it into a beautiful necklace. Sometimes I made earrings and bracelets. I made them all the time. Or perhaps I only made them a few times, but the memory persists so strongly that I’ve come to think it was a more common event. I might have been 5 or 6 or 8 years old.
As I grew older, the house was remodeled, the plant was moved to protect it, and I eventually moved away to the United States, – those flowers became firmly implanted in the past.
It was like they didn’t exist anywhere else, and they certainly, in my mind, didn’t exist outside my family’s village.
Imagine my surprise when, around twenty or so years later, I would find the red flowers in a large cement pot in a parking lot in, of all places, the small city of Emeryville, California, just across the magnificent Bay Bridge from San Francisco.
It was a regular morning. I had just gotten married and moved out further west from my starting point in Beirut, leaving the east coast of the United States for San Francisco. I took our very American dog for a morning walk, and there they were: the tiny red flowers amidst the green leaves of their shrub, in a neat square cement flower pot that was filled to the rim with dark brown soil.
After one glance at the cement flower holder, I stopped dead in my tracks.
How could a “merjeneh” plant be here? I had forgotten about it, really, until the red tubular flowers jumped out at me, like a jack in a box.
This wasn’t just a similar flower, or a shrub that looked a lot like the one in my memories. This was my grandmother’s “merjeneh” plant, down to the last detail, and they had found me when I was very far away from HOME – almost as far as you can get geographically.
Some Google searching much later on would tell me it is the Russelia equisetiformis, more commonly known as the Firecracker Plant, a pretty common vine you can find across the U.S. and the world.
A few months later, after moving to Santa Monica, just outside of Los Angeles, a similar phenomenon happened. At first, the environment seemed so foreign to me, as I adapted to the trees that looked like they were from outer space and plants that I had never seen from the Far East. But when the newness of it all settled, I began to discover remarkable things every morning while I walked my dog – or they would find me.
In February, the sidewalks in my neighborhood were lined with the yellow “hamayda.” Why had I assumed those only existed in northern Lebanon too? Then, in neat planters outside of picturesque HOMEs, I found my “Virgin Mary” purple flowers, not to mention the pine trees that lined the park next to my new HOME. It wasn’t a foreign land, it was all familiar.
After the initial surprise of finding these things in two very different places – Lebanon and California – it actually made perfect sense. HOME, just like the firecracker plant, doesn’t exist in just one place, or one plot of land, it spreads around the world, and you can find it anywhere.