Thursday, October 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Ithaca, 1987


Who on earth are these kids?  That's me on the left playing the piano, my partner (now husband) Dan standing on the right, and our friend Andrew between us.  Even knowing full well who these people are, I still have to ask: who are these kids?  27 years ago, 3 years out of college, we finally had our first house--okay, rented--but with its own yard and off-street parking, the first place where we stayed for more than one year, the first yard I mowed since graduating from high school, and the first time we had an unfurnished rental so we hit a lot of garage sales during that first year.  Even though we both had full-time jobs by this point, new furniture was a foreign concept because we were paying off student loans and had virtually no money.  Yet when I spotted this old piano at a sale one Sunday, I had to have it; we borrowed a friend's pickup truck, enlisted a couple of other friends, and went back to get it.  $700 was a huge amount of money at the time but I loved playing piano, and since we didn't even have a television I needed something to occupy my time!

But look past the piano and the kids in the truck and you can see hints of other things that occupied my time back then: morning glories (Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue') on the front porch, and plants pressing against the window up above.  The back yard was small, and mostly shaded, but I made an attempt to garden... not always successfully.  I drove to Syracuse to dig up free hostas from my aunt's back yard, and picked up some free ostrich ferns from a local yard.  I splurged and spent a few bucks to buy impatiens, back in those innocent days before impatiens downy mildew!  I also attempted to grow a few herbs and vegetables, but quickly discovered that such things wanted a whole lot more sun than my yard provided.  I desperately wanted to grow moon vine (Ipomoea alba) but never had any success until years later, in the long hot summers of Washington, DC.  And indoors I grew a multitude of plants on windowsills and under fluorescent lights, mostly gesneriads at this point, and started to get into plant breeding in earnest.

Indoor gardening

Who are these kids?  It's hard to remember sometimes what it was like to be 25, when life can take you in so many different directions.  Although we stayed in that house for 5 years, things changed soon after this photo was taken.  I went back to school at Cornell to pursue a graduate degree in botany.  Shortly after this Dan was offered a job in Philadelphia, and rather than my holding him back, or dropping out of school, we decided he would move down there without me and we (barely) managed a long-distance relationship for 3 years.  When I finished in 1991 we both made our way to Washington, DC--a city we had previously visited only as tourists--and we've been here ever since.

John and Dan

Who are these kids?  When we attended our 30th reunion this past summer, we visited the Cornell Plantations and I reminisced about working as a gardener in 1984, just out of college and willing to take any employment I could find (ask me about the honeybee lab sometime).  Despite the hard work and early hours (two things I normally detest) I loved that job and I remember debating whether to go into botany or horticulture.  27 years later I'm still wondering if I made the right choice.  But now I'm looking forward, towards retirement, and as life barrels along, it doesn't seem so far off anymore.  I'm approaching an age when a person's life can once again go in any of several directions.  Maybe I'll start a second career, something more horticulture-related.  Maybe everything will change again.  27 years from now (assuming I'm still alive) I'll be pushing 80 and maybe I'll be looking back and asking, who is that kid?


  1. Lovely post John, nice to see a glimpse of your past!

  2. Thank you! I still find it hard to believe so much time has passed since then!