The Geranium Thief

I'm trying something new this week. 

I'm in experimentation mode launching my new podcast. As most of you know, I am a one-man band, so it's hit and miss sometimes. While figuring out all the podcast tech stuff, as well as the much more interesting whens, whats, and whys, and then putting up my first trial-run podcast (click LISTEN on the upper right of this page), I decided to record this week's blog post, too.

So I am posting both the recorded and written versions of The Geranium Thief (which are more or less the same). For those of you who prefer listening to reading, this is for you. 

To listen, please click on this BUTTON:

For those of you who prefer to read, here is the regular old written version:

This is one of the most joyful memories of my childhood.

I was about thirteen. My parents had been divorced for about two years, and my father was driving me home from a visit with him. We were just cresting Laurel Canyon, heading down into the valley, when suddenly he pulled over in front of a nondescript one-story ranch-style house set back from the street behind a low wall.

"Do you see those deep purple geraniums?" he asked me.

I looked at the garden and saw that it was beautiful. Flowers everywhere. Roses mostly. A magnolia tree. I was scanning for the geraniums when he interrupted my reverie.

"There," he pointed. A little impatiently, as though slightly disappointed to have been burdened with such an unobservant and slow-witted child. "In the pot by the front door."

"Oh, yeah," I said, squinting to find them. "I see them," I continued, with less than overwhelming enthusiasm.

"Every time I drive past this house, I covet those geraniums. I've never seen a purple geranium!" he said. 

I knew better than to express any of the astonishment I felt. That he could even see the geraniums while flying by at 40 miles per hour was in itself stunning. But that anyone would particularly care about geraniums enough to covet them was the kicker, as far as I was concerned. Geraniums being, to me, among the most prosaic and mundane of flowers.

But I just smiled, nodded, and waited for him to take his foot off the brake and pull back out on the road. 

Instead he put the car in park. 

"The time has come," he said. "You're going to go get one for me."


I was thirteen. That awkward age between being the carefree kid I had always been and the socially paranoid teenager that awaited me. But I was still my father's daughter and I was used to our adventures together. But this -- theft! -- was a whole new ballgame.

"I'm not asking you to go in there and steal the whole pot. I've brought my clippers. Geraniums will grow from just a clipping. You just have to go in there and snip a little bit off." He winked at me. "They'll never notice."

Clippers? This was pre-meditated crime?

Now I was in! I grabbed the clippers and awaited further instructions.

"Don't go in the gate. Just climb the fence, cut a piece off -- be sure you get a flower though -- and come back. I'll have our getaway car ready." He grinned and pointed me out the door.

I can't tell you how long the whole escapade took. A couple of minutes max. What I do remember is the monologue I began rehearsing the moment I stepped out of the car and began to scale the wall. I envisioned the angry homeowner coming out and threatening to call the cops on this clipper-wielding blond teenage girl, who suddenly said, "This is for my dad. He's fallen in love with your geraniums. He says he's never seen anything as beautiful. He's over there in the car. Yes. Him. Right. In the Audi. Yes, the one who looks like Vincent Price. He IS Vincent Price. He's got a green thumb, you know. And he's been coveting your purple geranium every time he drives past." 

As I hopped into their yard and ran over to the potted plants, cut the flower and a bit of stem, and made my escape, I imagined the meeting of these two great geranium minds and the wonderful connection they would have.

None of that happened. I hopped back in the car and handed my loot over to my dad. Who wrapped the stem in a wet paper towel and tin foil, with which he had also come prepared, and then, as though nothing had happened, drove me home to my mother.

But something had happened. Yes, I had become a geranium thief. But that wasn't what happened. In my imagined script of the encounter between my famous father and the angry homeowner, I had envisioned two flower lovers beginning a conversation about something they both loved -- gardening. And through that imagining, I had fallen in love, too.

My father planted that purple geranium and, as he said it would, it rooted itself and grew into a beautiful deep purple geranium bush. From time to time over the years, he and I would wander out into his garden to look at his favorite plants -- his cymbidium collection, his frais du bois, the gardenia bushes -- but we would always, always pay a visit to "our" geranium. 

I had always loved flowers in the way that children love most beautiful things -- by taking their beauty for granted. But that day I felt a new kind of joy in flowers, a connection, an excitement, and understanding. That joy has blossomed into one of the great gifts of my life. Almost daily now, I photograph a flower I see -- in someone's garden, by the side of the road, even for sale in a supermarket. And every single time I do, I think of my dad.

My flower thievery is digital these days. My accomplices are my Instagram friends. But the sharing is just as satisfying. 

This may be my favorite quote about joy ever:

People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.
— Iris Murdoch

I am. Mad with Joy. Always and forever the irredeemable and unapologetic Geranium Thief.

The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief
The Geranium Thief


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