For as long as I knew her, my grandmother had a painting of a jacaranda tree hanging in her house.
I have been particularly fond of jacarandas all my life because of this painting, and when I see the rich purple flowers I think of her.
Living in Melbourne I see the occasional jacaranda but when I was in Sydney a few years back, I saw that the trees are everywhere, particularly on the North Shore, and they make the place look magical.
I decided to look up ‘jacaranda’ in Wikipedia and I found a photo from 1975 of the trees in Salisbury, Rhodesia. This is exactly where my grandmother lived. I opened up the photo to full size and saw a large avenue with jacarandas in full bloom, running the entire length of the street. And then I realised something.
The painting of a jacaranda hanging in my grandmother’s house wasn’t just a painting of a tree. It was a door into her life after she moved from England to her adopted country, where for thirty or so years she raised a family, ran businesses, loved and lost love, and farewelled her family when they emigrated to Australia. Despite joining her family in Melbourne in 1975 and living here until her death three decades later, my grandmother’s heart and home remained in Rhodesia.
And then my mother told me the painting was actually one my grandmother had commissioned, of a jacaranda on the tobacco farm my father had worked on. Dad told me the scene – of the tree and the distant hills – was the view from the kitchen window of the little cottage he lived in.
I realised this painting kept alive my grandmother’s connection with a life in another country, a place and time which in many ways no longer exists, and yet will always be there.
(Published in “In Their Branches“)