Ada. She was the boss no one wanted. When my colleagues learned I was transfering to Ada's 'domain', they offered their condolences. "Sorry for your transfer. You'll be sorry, too." Ada's reputation was that universal.
When I was shown my new cube in Ada's sterile little unit, Ada herself walked in. "So, this is you." She took the words right out of my mouth.
Ada. Picture Olive Oyl, from the Popeye cartoons. Color her hair light gray, not black. Dangle a cigarette from her mouth. Picture a whole pack of cigarettes rolled up in her left shirt sleeve. And add one unlight ciggy tugged behind her ear. Add a Ticonderoga #2 pencil, always sharpened to a fine point, clutched in her right hand fingers. Add a few wrinkles to her face, a face also gray with years of smoking and lack of sunlight - and you have Ada.
Ada. The task master. Five of us worked for her. I was her favorite, her protoge. Don't ask me how I got there - hard work, I guess. We were expected to work 11 hours a day, 6 days a week. Okay, on Saturday you could just work 5 hours if you a kid in soccer practice. Otherwise... you were Ada's tool all day.
Ada. Engineers feared her. Program managers all wanted her on their team but hated her appearance, haze of smoke, attitude. All work, no play - that was Ada. All boss, no soft side. All tough, no tenderness. No play.
I found 'play' in Ada. She grew flowers. Bulbs, to be specific. Iris bulbs to really narrow it down.
Bearded iris. Dalmatian iris. Reichenbach iris. Nazareth iris. Tigris iris. Giant blue iris. Purdy iris. And the never to be ignored Stinking iris.
So, rhizomes were Ada's other life. This was the life that Ada could bury in the ground and ignore for months on end. As spring brought forth fever and energy, Ada would tend to her iris. She'd attend the annual Iris show at the Shepherd's Iris Farm. She'd buy new bulbs, bury them, ignore them... and then dig them up, parse them out, replant them. And she'd bring me a rhizome or two every year. At first I was given the basic iris, one that was plain, purple, bearded. Then, as the years went on, I earned show stoppers. Ada would give me $30 bulbs, carefully handing the brown paper bag that held her precious cargo. "Transplant them to the ground when the soil stays warm at night. Until then, plant them in a pot on your patio. Don't over-water them, but keep them moist. Don't forget to separate them out next year. You don't want to crowd them in the soil."
I'd throw the paper bag in the back of my truck and forget about it for a day, a week, a fortnight. At some weird moment at 2 in the morning, I'd think of them in the bag in my truck. I'd run out to the garage in my pjs and pull the bag out and peek in - no worse for wear!!! Come morning, I'd stick the damn bulbs in the garden or in a pot and add water. Big deal, but at least now I could report back to Ada that the bulbs were planted and being tended.
Every spring, every Easter, I'd find my garden full of purple/lilac/yellow/white/pink iris flowers. Hundreds of them. Gently moving in the breeze, they would appear as a choir, swaying in time to some hymn being sung. I could watch them for hours.
Iris rhizomes. I dumped (er, planted) some in my back garden this year. I was afraid I did it before the ground was warm enough. I was so sure... that I stopped at the local garden center a couple weeks and bought a few hyacinth bulbs just to make up the difference. The hyacinths, I planted in pots. They are blooming now, and the patio is starting to smell like a funeral parlor.
And I see the shoots of my outdoor iris breaking through the soil. So I think of Ada. Her cigarettes, her #2 pencil, her driven work ethic, her iris. Hundreds of the flowers, swaying in the breeze. Singing a hymn - of life, of work, of play.