Friday, August 28, 2009

How I know what bougainvillea is

I never knew much about flowers. As a kid, my favorite flower was the Dogwood, for its Christ-like significance. The legend goes that the Dogwood is like Jesus on the cross. If you look closely, you can see the bruises where stakes went through his palms. Later, I realized my actual childhood favorite flower was honeysuckle. Many of my best memories involve railroad tracks or backyards that smelled like honeysuckle. We used to pull the little threads out to taste the tiny sweetness. So much work for such a little taste.

Later, my favorite flower was a purple rose. I saw them in a friend's house in high school once and decided right there. Purple is a historic favorite color of mine. My favorite shirt when I was 9 was purple. It was too-big and had gold stripes on the sleeve. Purple and gold for LSU. I wore it to pick berries at my grandmother's house in the unincorporated part of the county. The huckleberries stained my fingers a color not too far off from purple.

No one ever gave me purple roses, but I did buy a dozen of them once for a girl. She was the first girl I ever kissed, and I gave them to her after a play. They cost $80, which was a lot more money than I spent on anything else that year. My friend Hannah Page called me out on that. She knew I was stingier than anything and that I must have had it real bad for that girl, throwing out all that money on something that would be dead in a few days. She was right. In any event, I felt really silly holding them the whole play long. But at the end of it, egged on by Hannah and my brother, who was in town visiting for the week, I handed the flowers over. She said she liked them.

One thing I liked especially about Kate when I met her is how much she knew about flowers. Everywhere we went, she would point flowers out and tell me their names. Her grandmother's house had fresh orchids and other nice displays. Kate is also the one who taught me about bougainvillea. We were in San Francisco, walking toward the tea gardens. It was awfully cold (even though it was late June! I was still very steeped in Southern then and had no idea such a thing was even possible). They were crawling up alongside some houses, I think. In any event, I thought the name was really funny and made her spell it out for me.

So it was funny, about a year or two later, when we were playing a board game where everyone has a pad and has to write down answers to different questions. The question was to name a flower that had more vowels than consonants. I wrote down bougainvillea, but Kate didn't think of it, and I won the game.


Kate said...

one night i was sitting around drinking beer with some people and we started to argue about how to spell bougainvillea. so we all took a turn with the typewriter, each putting down our version on the word on a small slip of white paper.

vouganbilia . . . bougenvalia . . . bugunvellia

it was one of the greatest accidental poems i've seen.

Kate said...
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