Remembering Jane’s Geraniums

Whenever my husband and I would leave my in-laws’ home after picking up our young sons from some time spent with Grandma and Grandpa, we would always notice them standing in their doorway, watching. Framed by a solid-brick façade, they’d gaze out at us as we buckled the boys safely into their car seats and arranged their various bags of stuff.

If it were winter, there would be a Christmas wreath on the door and Grandma Jane would peer around it, sometimes adjusting a red bow or rearranging a bough. If it were summer, they’d scurry out to the front steps and perch next to a large cast iron flowerpot brimming with bright orange-red geraniums.

They’d stand like sentinels, arms folded in front, waiting until we pulled out of the driveway and were headed back home. As we’d disappear from their view, I’d turn my head and there they’d be, waving and smiling, and then finally shutting the door. That scene would repeat itself for years to come, and I admit I often thought they were wasting time standing there doing nothing but peering out. I’d think, Why aren’t they getting back to what they were doing, catching the last of a television show or racing to finish the dishes, or getting ready to hit the hay?

You’ve heard the phrase, “Seeing them off”? My in-laws defined that phrase, literally. And now we do. We see people off. We stay right by the door until we catch the very last glimpse. I now understand why my husband’s parents were compelled to always, like actors in a play, get to their “stage left” goodbye spots.

Fast-forward about two decades and my husband and I are participating in a revival of that same scene, which often stars our sons bolting out the door, down the driveway, and into their cars, off to whatever adventures lie ahead. The tradition continues as we stand in the doorway, often clutching Kleenex while their cars zoom down the street.

Enter a home, and there are happy greetings all around. Then comes the exit — pulling away, waving goodbye. Growth. Passages.

After our sons are gone, the same unspoken words and emotions begin to swirl around the entryway like a flurry of old leaves dancing across the walkway: I’ll miss him. When will I see him next? Will he be safe? I hope he’ll come back soon. That visit was way too fast. Silent prayers for safety and good health are quickly said, then it’s, “Yikes, this door needs to be painted or replaced. The pots need watering. The glass is so dirty — get the Windex out. That front-porch bench needs a makeover!”

No makeovers are needed for the cool entryways you’ll find in this issue. Check out the cover story home’s front steps, which are straight from the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose Woodward Avenue entrance underwent a renovation in the 1980s. The steps were salvaged and now grace a gorgeous lakeside Oakland County home. Oh, and the block pavers that lead to those stairs? They were reclaimed from a bridge in Europe! Then there’s the Detroit apartment (it’s technically a condominium, but the owner likes the apartment term much better, as it’s more citified) that’s featured in another story. Just steps inside the home, you find yourself in a fascinating foyer whose main attraction is 300-year-old wooden sugar grinders from the Philippines. Imagine the hellos and goodbyes that are said amid such inspirational environs!

Emotional farewells and important life passages mingle with physical elements. We associate things — whether ornate, historic, or simple — with feelings.

When I see a pot of orange-red geraniums I recall my mother-in-law waving, her beautiful smile lighting up the doorway. And that’s a wonderful image — and feeling —  to carry with me.

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