Long Live the Garden Sprouts

Lunch this day was at the Courtyard Café inside the New Orleans Museum of Art. As I wrangled my way toward a seat with a view I heard a voice from a nearby table. I turned and saw about a dozen distinguished ladies. “Errol, remember us?” one asked. “We’re the Garden Sprouts.” The Garden Sprouts! The moment wouldn’t have meant more to me had they been the original Apollo astronauts.

Flashback: My mom had been a longtime member of the Garden Spouts going back to the days when there were many more garden clubs and lots of stay-at-home mothers looking for social outlets. The Sprouts, for which she served more terms as Corresponding Secretary than Franklin Roosevelt served as president, had been a source of lasting friendships. During her latter years, the club had also been a source of two major issues. One was the last time she hosted a meeting. By tradition, the members paired off with each duo taking a turn at providing a home space and refreshments. I guess it was early 2004 when my mom and her partner took their turn. By mutual agreement the event would be at my mom’s house. Her partner suggested hot dogs for the fare, but my mom wouldn’t accept that. For days she worked preparing meats, casseroles (including her legendary mushroom rice dish) and desserts. By then a widow, she needed help moving the furniture out of the living room and setting up chairs. That was my call. I went over the night before and even brought some brand new folding chairs.

My mom was apprehensive that evening. She had taken on more responsibility than she had needed, but she felt that hosting had to be done right.

Late that next afternoon I called her to see how it went. She was so relieved; everything had gone well and they had enjoyed her food. “What business was conducted, Mom?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she giggled. What mattered to her wasn’t so much the substance of the event but the staging – and she had done it well. I was very proud of her.

Not long after that an issue arose within the Garden Spouts that had the potential of setting sister against sister.

There was a proposal before the group to stop having meetings at homes, but to go to restaurants instead. One place had offered them a deal where they could even have their own meeting room. My mom knew as well as anyone the burden of hosting a meeting at home, but she was adamant that there should be no change. Homes were where the Sprouts belonged. As the voting meeting approached the issue grew bigger. The question pitted the past against the future – tradition against style – toil against convenience. In the end the outcome was a landslide – in favor of moving to restaurants. The days of home-hosted meetings were over. I always suspected that, privately, my mom was relieved.

Then came Hurricane Katrina. The living room where my mom once hosted was turned to mush. The furniture and folding chairs were submerged obstacles. My mom’s health had changed, too, and she spent the rest of her days in Central Louisiana. I had wondered about the Garden Sprouts – a group that had been so important in her life. Were they still around?

Flash forward: Seeing the Spouts was uplifting. They were still active and there were some new members. The café setting was perfect. They could look out at the foliage and manicured landscape of City Park. The menu selection was good as well, including chi-chi salads and soups. Too bad there wasn’t a mushroom rice casserole.

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