Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ada and Iris

Hyacinth
 Ada was my first professional boss. The boss you have when you realize you have reached a career, not just a job. The boss who trains you, who takes you under his/her wing, the boss who can take you aside and correct you or pep you up.

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.
Hyacinth

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.

16 comments:

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

I love your Ada. Anyone who likes to stick their fingers in the dirt can't be all bad. Someone who has the patience to nurture rizomes and bulbs, is pretty special.

I had a similar boss. People couldn't figure us out. I never tried.

Stumpy's glad to have you on her side!

altadenahiker said...

Oh, now I'll be spending today trying to figure out who has been my worst boss, and why.

Oh, of course. I know...

Sandra said...

this is a wonderful story and a great tribute to her. everyone has good things and bad things and the flowrers are her good part. i am sure you are glad you had her in your life at one time.

Barb said...

What a great character study. I like thinking that the Iris are Ada's real contribution to Life!

Laura~DancesWithTeddyBears said...

Beautiful story, beautifully told.

Kathy said...

Love your story. I can relate - to both you and Ada! I am an iris grower! They do well in Phoenix. Actually, they do well just about everywhere. Four years ago when I thought I was coming to Texas I dug all mine up, left them in a box for almost a year, finally shipped them off to my mom where she threw them in the ground. There are now about 75 and I can't wait for them to start blooming in probably April!

David L Macaulay said...

Ada sound like a real character, the type who would be big into irises

tracy said...

What a great story, and you tell it so well!

Stella said...

Ada sounds like a terrific person, like someone, who when they die, leave a small fortune to a little college somewhere that offers hope to kids without much money. That and her Iris garden. Great story, thanks!

Jo, Stella and Her Zness

Elaine said...

Nice story! Everyone has a softer side, we just have to find it.

Snapper II said...

Great Photos of the Iris.

Fantastic story about Ada. Your talent for telling a story is unequaled. I loved it.

Pat Tillett said...

Loved this post! It was a great tribute! I'm always to happy to hear about people who don't fit into the mold...

Thérèse said...

I can very well picture Ada. Most of us have Adas in our life...
Having heard about her before meeting her must have helped too.

Banjo52 said...

I like irises and the theme of seeing the warm side of a cold human. But I'm afraid the flowers alone don't warm her up enough for me. I can't like the idea of a stern, 60-hour week jack hammer of boss. Maybe if her soft spot were dogs or birds . . . but even then, I dunno. Does that make me even colder than Ada?

Brenda's Arizona said...

Banjo - I know what you mean. The irises alone... it doesn't mean she had a soft spot at all. But the irises were like a crack in her armor. And I was the lucky one who could see the crack, who could be reached by her through the crack, who could think of her in ways other than the 60 hour work/week boss.

I knew her fallacy. I knew she could 'soften'. I am the only one in our building who knew that. I wonder what could have been if I had exposed her 'soft side' to everyone? I wonder...

Pasadena Adjacent said...

"I wonder what could have been if I had exposed her 'soft side' to everyone? I wonder..."

bet she would have canned you. i'm with Banjo