June 15th, 2017
It comes in various colors, thick and thin and variegated. It’s easy to get started but difficult to contain, growing quickly, spreading quickly, going where it’s supposed to and where it’s not.
And just when you think it’s gone, it pops up again. And again.
As published in The Memphis Daily News, June 16, 2017, and in The Memphis News, June 17-23, 2017
ROOTS AND MONKEY GRASS
So I’m waiting in line at Booksellers to get my high school classmate, Cary Fowler, to sign my copy of his new book when a moment of quintessential Memphis broke out.
In front in me are two women about my age, identical twins. One interrupted my musing about attractive twins by turning to me and asking, “Are you Dan Conaway?” Surprised, I said that I was. “My little brother was your wife’s first date,” she said.
She then introduced herself and her sister and kept going. “You know, Cary is renovating the house we grew up in.” I nodded, knowing somehow there was more, and she continued. “There was a ton of monkey grass in that yard. When my husband and I bought a place in Morningside, I dug up a bunch and planted it in our yard so I’d always be reminded of that house.” She then leaned in for the big finish, “And you know where that monkey grass came from?” I shook my head. “From your momma,” she said, “she was getting rid of some and my momma got it from your house.”
“From Perkins?” I asked, going back 50 years. “I thought you grew up on Highland,” she said, confused. “Oh my God,” I exclaimed, going back 60 years, to an earlier yard, to a lifetime ago. Her mother and mine were in the same art league, it seems, and the monkey grass they shared has painted a family portrait.
A five-minute conversation with someone I’d never met tied us together across generations, and to my wife, to my friend, to my city. And as you read this somebody in Memphis is having a conversation just like that in some unlikely place.
When I got up to Cary with the book, I told him that saving the future by saving the world’s seeds was fine, but we needed to talk about saving monkey grass.
I wrote an earlier column about Cary Fowler, founder of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault and incoming chair of the Rhodes College board. Traveling as he does all over the world and living in New York, Cary could just stay in a hotel or keep an apartment here for his Rhodes business, but he is instead saving the historic Goodman house where the twins and my wife’s first date and that monkey grass grew, where the twins’ grandfather, Abe Goodman, entertained some of the country’s most famous and influential, and where Cary will do the same – wherever he is in the world – calling this place, again and always, home.
When he gave me a tour of the house and the world-class renovation, we stood on the columned front porch and I pointed to the corner it stands on at Poplar and East Parkway. “When Dad was a Boy Scout, they used to do a five-mile hike from the city limits out into the country. It started right in front of this house.”
I’m a Memphian, and the roots are strong.