This is a story of a flowering plant, some gardeners and a family friendship that spans four generations. It is a story that affirms much of what I believe to be true about gardeners (and people in general): they are hopeful, they are generous and they connect across generations.
About fifty-five years ago, a young couple named Dick and Ann Smith bought their first home in a quiet, leafy neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. Dick – also known as “Kay” – was a former Stanford football player and a Korean War veteran. A journalist by trade, he found work at NBC Studios as a cameraman. Ann, a lab tech and East Coast transplant, stayed at home with Bill, their young son, who was soon joined by a string of siblings.
The neighbors across the street from the Smiths were an older couple, Bob and Lucille Ludlum. They welcomed the Smiths warmly. Bob and Lucille had a daughter, Joanne, a UCLA grad, who was married to an up and coming sound engineer, Ed Rossi.
Ed and Joanne were the same age as Dick and Ann; a warm friendship immediately formed. The Rossi family lived nearby with their three sons, who often visited their grandparents. The Smiths eventually also had three boys, all near in age to the Rossi boys. The quiet, dead-end street erupted into a joyful jumble of children during those years. That is how my husband, Bill, met his lifelong best friend, Steve, and where the story of the blooming plant begins.
Lucille Ludlum was a gifted and dedicated gardener. One day, Lucille gave Ann Smith, my mother-in-law, a plant cutting. It took off, and flourished for years and years in Ann’s yard. Bill admired it, and often wondered how it would grow in Ventura. So Ann gave him a cutting, which has rooted and thrives in our yard.
Time marches on. Lucille and Bob Ludlum passed away many years ago, and a new neighbor moved into their home. The six boys have grown into middle-aged men with adult children of their own. Only one of “the boys” – Bill – is a true gardener, and he channels the spirit of Lucille Ludlum well.
Every year, our family vacations on the beach in San Diego County. It’s counter-intuitive, because we live in a lovely beach community further north. But that week gives Bill and Steve an opportunity to surf with one another, and for our families to reconnect, to share a meal and time together. We laugh a lot. A lot. This relationship is the easy, miraculous kind. You may not see one another for months, but pick up the same conversation again, as if you’d only left the room for a moment. Everything about it is authentic and honest. If I had to characterize the relationship in terms of plants, I’d think of it as life-giving pollen.
Each year, the same stories are told. Through them, children know their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents better. The stories anchor us, and like plant roots, they nourish us. They provide context for our lives and the history the two families share, which has become so intertwined.
Several years ago, Bill brought a cutting from his plant to give to Kate, Steve’s wife. She is a good gardener, and it felt right to try this. He recited the history: the original plant material had come from Steve’s grandmother, Lucille Ludlum, but had passed through Ann’s hands and then to Bill’s. From Studio City, to Ventura, to San Diego, across three generations of gardeners.
The cutting lived. And sometimes, Kate sends us a picture of the bloom.
And this has become one of the new stories we tell again when we meet each summer in northern San Diego County, as the days, the weeks, months, seasons and years spin by at a seemingly faster pace. And Lucille and Bob live again, and our parents are young again, and the men are children again, playing ball on a street, in tree-speckled sunlight, in the eternal and endless days of childhood summers gone by, as plants grow in well-tended yards, waiting for the perfect moment to bloom.
Note: This past weekend, we celebrated the wedding of Lucille Ludlum’s youngest great-grandchild. And when the time is right, cuttings from Ventura and San Diego will make their way to the home of newlyweds Ashton and Bobby, who plan to settle in the Los Angeles area, where two families became friends more than half a century ago.