The late-summer shadows speak volumes. It’s back-to-school time and time, too, for the "Mikey Rosco" perennials to flower. When I was of school age all those years ago, a neighbor family had these plants in their front-stoop boxes that came back every year. They always flowered in late summer and bloomed through the better part of the fall. I called them “Mikey Rosco plants” back then and remember how they attracted a never-ending parade of honeybees and some butterflies as well. Their star-shaped flowers would be covered with bees sometimes as they transitioned in color from pink to a coppery hue befitting the changing season. The leaves on the plant were thick and moist. We youths would sometimes break off a leaf and use it like a magic marker on the concrete.
Of course, nobody ever thought to inform me that the plant in question had a name other than “Mikey Rosco”: “Autumn Joy Sedum.” But then again, I doubt too many folks in the old neighborhood knew that. The elderly Italian lady who originally planted them was gone and her son—who didn’t have her green thumb—probably didn’t know that they were Autumn Joy Sedums that sprung to life every spring in his front flower boxes. Still, he got a plant named after him, which is not something that happens to everyone.
Anyway, I thought of the Mikey Rosco plants today when I spotted some not too far from the storied ones of my boyhood. There were no honeybees on the pink flowers, which is sad but not surprising nowadays. In fact, the plants looked rather forlorn without any busy bees and butterflies on them. I know as a fact that these plants have been there for decades—spreading all the while—in front of a home that once upon a time was owned by the McHugh family, two generations of certifiable oddballs. Father, mother, and son lived on the old block without ever meeting the eyes of a single neighbor. Well, that might be a bit of an exaggeration but only a tiny bit.
Mr. McHugh, the family patriarch, would walk down the block—passing a stoop full of people alongside the Mikey Rosco plants—woodenly staring into the distance. I don’t recall him ever uttering a word. By chance, my father served on a jury panel with him at the Bronx County Courthouse. He learned then that his mysterious and reticent neighbor, Mr. McHugh, could actually speak—in a brogue—and worked as an elevator operator. I’d have been very leery getting in an elevator with that dead-ringer for John List—"and that's the truth" to borrow from Lily Tomlin.
Honestly, I don't think this little escapade rises to the level of the Antwerp diamond heist. In fact, I didn’t even think it rose to level of a sin worth confessing to a priest in a pitch-black, claustrophobic closet forty-five years ago. Without working up a sweat, Mrs. McHugh very likely located another empty produce box to replace the one we made off with.
All of these memories are courtesy of my spying flowering Mikey Rosco plants on the McHugh’s old homestead, which is now a residence for the developmentally disabled. The McHugh’s sold the house to the state some three decades ago. There was some controversy back then about the deal and what it would mean to a quiet residential neighborhood. But life and the Mikey Rosco plants went on without missing a beat.
(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)