I didn’t know malvões were called geraniums until I came to Canada. And even when I was growing up in the Azores, I didn’t know that gerânios was the proper Portuguese word for geraniums. In Ponta Delgada, the city where I lived, we called them malvões (malvão in the singular), and in my father’s village of Achada they called them capitães.
Our quintal was always full of red, white, pink, and matizado (spotted) geraniums in pots lined up against the walls. In Canada, my parents continued the tradition of having malvões in their backyard. I keep geraniums in my own backyard from spring until the end of summer, when they are then composted, because they can’t survive the Canadian winter outdoors.
This year, I decided to save my potted geraniums by bringing them inside the house with the hope that the plants would survive this winter indoors, and then flower again when spring comes. I read up on how to take care of geraniums during a Canadian winter, and even though I have followed the instructions, many have withered away, while some, now flowerless, maintain their green leaves.
I have never gotten used to the word geraniums, and to this day, I called them malvões. Every time I say or think the word, I am back, for a fleeting moment, to my childhood quintal, my fingers caressing a malvão’s green leaf, feeling its silky-smooth surface, as my grandmother’s voice beckons me in for lunch. “Vem almoçar,” I can hear her saying just as clearly as I hear the word malvões, conjuring up the world of my childhood.
Pastel pencil drawings and photographs by Emanuel Melo.