When I was in my teens I was friends with an older, Catholic woman from Poland, who had been in a concentration camp with her family when she was young. That experience made her very very kind and understanding of suffering others couldn’t comprehend. It also made her unable to believe in the longevity of another’s friendship.
Wanda helped me survive a terrible time in my life when I was on my own and the world was very uncaring. She taught me to appreciate many things. She kept plants in her house, hundreds of them, it seemed to me, and her Saturdays were devoted to carefully moistening each one just to the degree that it needed, resting them in her tub in batches to soak up that necessary balm. All of this, and in fact much of what she did, seemed excessively careful and labour-intensive to me. At the same time it impressed me deeply, and somewhere hidden inside a part of me longed to live as she did.
She gave me my first house plant, a small coleus that I named Vanya, after my favourite character in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Such a beautiful and precious being deserved a beautiful name. But I was so afraid I would kill it. If not for Wanda and her confidence in me, I wonder if I would ever have discovered my love of plants.
There is much more to the story, but I will end here, except to explain this picture.
One of the things Wanda introduced me to was the notion that boring food could be made delicious. One day at lunch she opened a tin of Campbell’s tomato soup, just like I’d had a million times as a kid, but Wanda didn’t just throw it in a pot with milk and water and stir. As it heated she sprinkled dill weed - a thing I had never heard of – into the pot. When she took it off the stove she added a big dollop of sour cream and a little more dill weed.
At last, she put the bowl in front of me and I tasted something fine.
Every once in a very blue moon, in honour of my long lost friend, I make myself a bowl of her simple amended soup, and for a moment I am discovering life with her again.
Thank you, Wanda, wherever you are. May your dreams be kind to you.