My mother, and most of the folks I grew up around, always called them Blue Sailors—though Dad, the botanist, would occasionally add that the more common name for the rather scraggly wayside plant with the cheery blue blooms was chicory. By either designation, it was a familiar plant, appearing along the shoulder of the road, on the sides of the shortcut path across the junkyard wasteland where Old Man Gardner parked his wrecked and rusting cars, and in the sunny, hard-packed corner behind the garden.
One thing my father pointed out me about chicory was how the flowers, one of the first to open with dawn's new light, were also likely to be closed up tight by noon—though on cloudy days, the blooms might remain open all day…or not open at all.
Uncle Howard, whose travels occasionally took him to New Orleans, would sometimes bring back cans of chicory-laced coffee. Chicory roots, roasted and ground, are added to to the coffee as a flavor enhancer. In fact, during times when coffee has been in short supply, or simply too expensive to afford, ground chicory has regularly been wholly substituted for coffee.
Like so many everyday things, plebeian chicory is often given no more than a passing glance. And yet, when you examine the sky-blue daisy-like flower up close, they are simply exquisite. For some reason, the darker blue stamens always remind me of candles on a cake. Come to think of it, a country byway blue-spattered on either side by dense swathes of chicory blooms, is one of summer's most delightful visual celebrations.