Flowers have always been a part of my life. It is not that I am a gardener or anything. In fact, I do Mother Nature a favor by not gardening. Still, many of the milestones and memories in my life have a floral undertone.
The first time I remember flowers was when I was four or five years old. I was taking dance lessons. I do not remember anything about those dance lessons except that I wore a leotard and had two distinct kinds of shoes. We played Farmer in the Dell and Hokey Pokey. Why I needed two distinct kinds of shoes for these activities, I don’t know. We had a recital. I am not sure how playing Farmer in the Dell or Hokey Pokey prepared us in any way to perform at a recital, nor can I remember specifically what we did at the recital. The point is that there was a recital. At the conclusion of the performance, little Kathleen Murray, who lived across the street from us, got flowers from her parents. I remember the little bouquet tied up with ribbons and lace. My parents missed the memo about the flowers. I had no flowers. And I was crushed. I am sure I was overtired and overstimulated. I started to howl, which was extremely uncharacteristic of me. I was always an easygoing, amenable child. I rarely asked for anything. I certainly never threw a tantrum. I do not know if I was exactly throwing a flowerless tantrum exactly. I was just very, very devastated and sad that I did not have flowers. I was inconsolable. No one could make me see reason until my Grandpa Goodness (yes, that was his name) said I could come over to his house the next day and pick all the flowers I wanted for a bouquet from his beautiful, lush garden. I initially objected because my bouquet would not have ribbons like Kathleen Murray’s. Grandpa said he would find me some ribbon and I finally calmed down.
The next day, I went to visit Grandpa and he took me around the garden, patiently clipping anything I wanted. We ended up with not one but two bouquets. He wrapped the stems together with aluminum foil. He found some black grosgrain ribbon and tied it around the bouquets. It was not white lace and satin ribbons, but I was fine with what we created. I spent time with Grandpa and had lots of colorful, aromatic blooms. Besides, a full night of sleep undoubtedly improved my mood and temperament. I was much easier to appease after a night’s rest. My grandparents had six grown children, all but one of whom lived in the same general area. When I was born, I came somewhere in the middle of my grandparents’ twenty-two grandchildren. I think the novelty had pretty much worn off by the time I was born. I think grandchildren were a bit of a fungible commodity to my grandparents. For me to get Grandpa to myself for a whole morning was a wonderful treat that I remember nearly 60 years later.
I always felt bad about my behavior over the recital flower fiasco. Yes, I know I was just a small, overtired child and small, overtired children sometimes act out. Still, I was always a sensitive kid. I knew that my reaction was out of control and probably hurtful to my parents. Years and years later, I brought the incident up to my mother to apologize. She blurted out that she had always continued to feel bad about the incident as well. She thought she had scarred me for life by not getting me flowers at my first recital. What actually scarred me for life was my throwing a fit about it. I think the incident scarred my mother for life, too. This was not only my first dance recital; it was my last. Even though I asked if I could go back to dance lessons when we moved to California, my mother refused on the grounds that she thought I was just asking because a friend of mine was taking the lessons. I think she refused because she could not bear the idea of a repeat of the dance recital flower fiasco.
It was not that my parents had anything against flowers. When I turned nine, they gave me a corsage to wear to school on my birthday. They even matched it to the outfit I wore. I loved it that first year. The next year, I went to school with my yellow carnation corsage pinned to my green and yellow jumper. I was beaming. It was my birthday. I had flowers. My family would give me presents and celebrate that evening. Unfortunately, soon after I got to school, the children started to tease me. I do not know how many kids got involved, but it seemed like hundreds were pushing into my personal space chiding me and giving me “birthday” spankings. This crowd did not feel like a bunch of ten-year-olds in a space together. It felt like a monolithic evil force that was capable of much more damage than the sum of its parts. I felt overwhelmed and trapped. I swear that the crush of kids around me actually lifted me off the ground. Between the words and the blows, I panicked and began to sob. My teacher, who was known as a bit of a holy terror, rescued me. She channeled the “holy” part and rushed in like an avenging angel. Scattering hordes of children in her wake, she pulled me into her substantial, cozy bosom. She hugged me and dried my tears.
At recess, I went into the girls’ bathroom. From inside the stall, I heard other girls discussing the birthday spanking incident. They were angry at the teacher for interrupting the fun. One of the girls commented that I should have known what was coming because I thought I was so great wearing flowers to school. I listened to them talk unkindly about me for a few minutes before they left the bathroom. I cried again, then composed myself and went back to class.
That night I told my mother I did not want her to get me flowers anymore. I did not tell her why. I think her feelings were hurt. Mine were, too.
Stay tuned next week for more flower petals from the garden of my life! As I thought about the role flowers have played in my life, I was amazed at how many incidents I recalled. There were too many for one blog post, so I decided to create a part 2!
Have a blooming day!