Sep 01

Orchids

“Oh, no, the orchids died again.”  I almost cried as soon as I saw the white and purple orchid pots in the gray room.  I threw my heavy winter coat on the kitchen chair and dashed to the orchid pots on the glass table in the middle of the gray room and carefully touched the wide green leaves.

“The leaves are still alive, not dead yet,” I continued, looking at Kwang’s back and his shoulders, and asked his  help.“Then, Kwang, how can I make them bloom again?”

“As you know, you should take care of plants like your baby, especially orchids,” was Kwang’s blunt reply.  I almost exploded at Kwang’s unfriendly response and it ignited my grumpy mood.

“I know, but the two cactus are fine,” I spilled out my emotion with high pitch.  Quietly Kwang disappeared into his library in order to avoid the delicate situation with my emotional climax.

 He did not want to help me?  I was frustrated and it was hard to control my bitter feelings.

At the dinner table I forced a compromise on the issue of the plants with Kwang.  The first one is keeping the fresh flowers on the kitchen table while we are home and adding the silk artificial ones in the living room. Second, the plants inside the house are his responsibility and the rose garden in the back yard is mine.  He had no objection to our negotiations.  But without saying a word, we made an agreement.

“Fresh flowers on the table, it is too much money,” and he continued, “Are you sure?”

I walked away from him without any further comment to avoid more conflict with him.  I got fresh coffee. I knew what he meant and he was showing me again his frugality.

Our friends and children send me flowers for Mother’s Day and my birthdays, but Kwang has never sent me a single stem of a rose for our almost fifty years of marriage.  I have bought fresh flowers for myself from Costco without expecting them from Kwang.

It has been such a joyful and happy moment for me to cut the stems of fresh flowers, smell them and touch them, and put them into vases with bluish copper citrate compound as a preservative.  I put them on the glass table in the living room and I looked at them a while. 

Mm, it’s beautiful and it makes my day, humming around the house.

I don’t need Kwang’s flowers.  He provides me with other things more precious than flowers, I was talking to myself, humming, up and down the stairs.

Last year, a couple of months apart, I received a white orchid from one of my daughters-in-law for Mother’s Day and a purple one from a friend on my birthday.

Both blossoms lasted about two months and then their petals fell down one by one.  And they left only the straight brown stems and two wide green leaves at the bottoms of the pots.

“Kwang, throw the pots away.  They just take up space,” I commanded him when we had warm coffee at the kitchen table while looking at the white snow on the pine trees on the bump through the window.  Kwang was quiet for a moment and then responded, “Remember, my job is to take care of the plants inside of the house”.  I was stunned and speechless. 

That’s right.  We made a deal, I talked to myself and continued, I am so stupid.  Don’t step on his toes, just take care of it yourself.”  I totally forgot the deal that I forced him to make.

I should say to him, I am sorry, it’s none of my business.  I did not say that.  My ego did not allow me to mention it, but quietly I did, Yes I am sorry.

For a couple of months, from Kwang’s dedicated care of these two orchid pots, miraculously they started to bloom again with white and purple blossoms on the kitchen table, even during the Michigan winter.

His technique of success was to pay attention to the orchids constantly by talking with them and breathing the same air with them.

We took the Around the World Cruise in 2011 with Holland Cruise Lines’ ms Amsterdam from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from January 5 to April 26, 2011.  Just a few days before we left home both white and purple orchids were blooming from Kwang’s engineering mind with precise temperature and humidity control.  I deeply admired his tireless efforts and  determination to achieve his goal, to get the most beautiful blossoms, yet I did not tell him.

On the ms Amsterdam I could see orchid pots on each dinner table and everywhere.  The dangling beautiful orchids flowers were in the library, at the corner of corridors and even in the women’s restrooms.  They had extremely healthy blossoms with supporting stems and wide thick green leaves.  They had small yellow flowers like forsythia in the spring, purple color like azaleas, white like white rose petals on the tables.

Normally, the ship cruised at night and docked at the port the next morning for the variety of excursions in order to observe the unique cultural events in each country.

On sea days, Kwang went to the water color painting class and I went to creative writing.  Many other activities were keeping us busy, such as Tai-Chi, lectures, dance classes, wine tasting and cooking classes.  Neither of us missed attending any Tai-Chi classes or the International Lecture series.

In his water color class Kwang painted the human faces from magazines and the beautiful scenery along the seashores and the rock statues on the shore of Easter Island were magnificent.  He demonstrated his talent perfectly on the paper.

One day he gave me a folder of his painting works including a Valentine card and several of orchids with bright colors.

“Oh, wow, a Valentine’s card.”  It was the first time I ever got a Valentine’s card, or any card from him in my life.

“Tomorrow morning the sun will rise from the west, not the east”.  We both burst out laughing and I said, “Thank you” and gave him a big hug.

“So many orchid paintings?” I asked him.

“One week’s work,” he quietly answered.

It reminded me of our orchids on the kitchen table when we left home in January.  They had beautiful white and purple flowers in each pot.  We were both speechless for a minute.  Kwang might think about orchids at home, too.

“In a couple of weeks our art class will have a silent auction with the paintings”.  I did not understand completely what he talked about, so I was quiet, but he continued, “Each student donates a couple of pieces”.  I was listening and Kwang continued, “The teacher told us it is absolutely voluntary, no obligation,” and he continued, “But I should donate a couple of pieces.”

I was stunned.  I could not agree with him at all.  We needed at least four pieces of his work on this trip to give to each of our children.  “No.  You cannot donate, because we do not have many pieces for our children.”  As usual he was quiet and he went to the sink to clean up his brushes.

The next day I found out that one piece was missing.

“Kwang, the pink orchid piece is not here, in your folder.”

“I donated it to the silent auction event.”

We did not speak to each other for a couple of hours.  I tried to comfort myself and control my anxiety.  The cold war could not thaw for several hours.

“The auction’s purpose is to help an orphanage in the Philippines.”

“You did not tell me.”

“I did not know exactly what the purpose was, and today the teacher told us clearly that this is an annual event on the ms Amsterdam”.

I felt much better than before but we could donate with money instead of his painting.  Two weeks later the paintings were on display on three long tables, about 50 pieces, in the main theater.

“What talent.  Such amazing pieces,” I told Kwang.

“Yes.  Many beautiful pieces were donated.”

“Kwang, I am sorry.  You should donate more, and your paintings of the Easter Island statues and the other scenery were astonishing products.”

“Don’t worry.  We will donate more with money, and then let’s give the rest of my paintings to our children.”

“Thanks.”

His orchid painting was sold for $25.00.

All the money that was raised was donated to the Hospicio de San Jose.

The Hospicio de San Jose (Hospice of St. Joseph) is the first social welfare agency in the Philippines.  It was originally called Hospicio General (General Hospice), The Hospice de San Jose was established in October 1778 by husband-and-wife Don Francisco Gomez Enriquez and Dona Barbara Verzosa with a donation to found the hospice that would take care of Manila’s “poor and unwanted children”, and people who are physically and mentally challenged, and also aging people.

Their goal is to design, develop and sustain innovative programs, services and curriculum to improve the quality of life of the poor.

There was no doubt the spirit of Kwang’s pink orchid was sprawling all over the Philippines and the spirit was embedded into the hearts of the people.

5 comments

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    • kook-Wha Koh on October 11, 2014 at 10:19 pm
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    thank you very much kind comment

    • Book Lover on October 11, 2014 at 9:27 pm
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    I enjoyed reading the exchanges between you and your husband. You illustrate your different personalities in this beautiful memoir.

    • Claire Murray on September 7, 2014 at 7:53 pm
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    Heart warming. Lovely. I enjoyed reading your piece.

    • Yibbity on September 2, 2014 at 8:49 am
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    Enjoyed reading your story.

    • Sue Remisiewicz on September 1, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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    Your story is a nice example of a character study. Very sweet and endearing with touches of tension that make it mulit-dimensional. Thanks for sharing it!

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