Last week, I began a survey of my life, as told through flowers. As I wrote, I was surprised at what a large part flowers played in my childhood. This week, I am continuing the saga of the seed.
Flowers came up again in high school. Our high school girls club used to have a Valentines’ Day sale each year as a fund-raiser. You could buy a carnation to be delivered to another student during class. It was a stressful time for the unpopular. The idea that one might receive a carnation was exciting, but the probability that I would go through the day blossomless created all kinds of angst in my teenage soul. I am sure I am not the only one. It felt bad to go through a class during the appointed time without receiving a carnation. It was such a public display of popularity or lack thereof.
I went through three years of high school dreading Valentines’ Day. Once or twice, I did get a flower from a friend. One year, my mother called the school and arranged to send me a carnation. When the girls’ club member delivered it, people asked who gave it to me. I am sure they were all shocked. I told them it was from a boyfriend at a different school. In retrospect, I doubt I was fooling anyone. In retrospect, I am also sorry I did not say it was from my mother, who loved me with an intensity greater than she loved anyone else in the world.
I did have a miserable adolescence. So did a lot of people. It is amazing anyone makes it through high school alive. Those carnations were one of the contributing factors to the trauma. However, there were some other flowers that contributed to healing. When I was a kid, my bedroom had a sliding glass door that led out into the backyard. I remember warm, quiet nights when I would open the glass slider and leave just the screen closed. The scent of my father’s night-blooming jasmine wafting into my room. When the jasmine was in bloom, all my mind could process, as I drifted off to sleep, was the sweet, spicy, exotic fragrance of the flowers. Even today, I find the scent of jasmine comforting. It evokes memories of the “safe” times in my young adulthood… evenings safe in my bed, with my family around me, and the jasmine lulling me to sleep.
I remember my high school graduation. My parents got me a corsage for that occasion. It was a white gardenia. At the beginning of the day, the scent was nice. The flower wilted throughout the day. The velvety creamy white petals began to brown at the edges. The aroma became much stronger and overpowering. The cloying sweetness began to smell like decay. It was a fitting end to the agony of adolescence.
When I got married, my mother and I had a tough time figuring out how to plan a wedding. In the days before the internet and the TLC channel on cable, it was much harder to figure out what to do than it is today. Besides, neither I nor my mother were noted for giving parties. Both of us were practical. I was raised that functionality is more important than sentiment when it comes to spending money (somehow, that perspective has not followed me into adulthood!) It never occurred to me or to my mother to have the reception anywhere than in the parish hall, which was also the parish school cafeteria. We decided to visit a nearby bridal salon that specialized in renting wedding gowns and one-stop wedding arrangements. They sold “packages,” that included the rental of a gown and headpiece, pictures, flowers, and cake. They had vendors to provide catering at an additional cost. When we arrived there and began looking at the dresses available for rent, it was apparent that my misshapen body was not going to fit into any of them. Still, the salon kept a seamstress on retainer to make gowns for brides who wished to purchase a gown (or was too oddly shaped to fit into a rental gown.) We spoke to the seamstress, who was somewhat linguistically challenged, and described what I wanted. We signed on for a package and agreed to a caterer to provide sandwich trays for the reception.
The dress she produced looked nothing like what I imagined. For most brides, this would have been a disaster. I do not think it bothered me that much for two reasons. First, I was convinced that I could not look pretty, no matter what I wore. Second, I did not want to upset my mother.
While the gown was not that important to me, flowers were. I wanted to carry white roses and stephanotis. Both species of flowers are on the expensive side of the scale. The stephanotis was not even on the scale for the package price. If I wanted roses and stephanotis, I would have to drastically economize on other flowers. I ended up abandoning my idea for pew flowers. My bridesmaids carried daisies. I had my bouquet of roses and stephanotis. I even had a little stephanotis vein woven around the edge of my rented headpiece. I do not know why that detail meant so much to me- why, in fact, the stephanotis was the only wedding detail that meant anything at all to me. Years later, I learned that stephanotis is a variety of jasmine. When I read that fact, the circle closed. I love it when things come together like that.
White roses have another meaning for me. There was a white rosebush outside the house where I grew up. It grew in a stony, rocky area between the house and garage where we kept our trash cans. Nobody paid much attention to it. Still, that rosebush thrived. Year after year, it yielded beautiful white blossoms at Christmas. White roses were more of a Christmas tradition at our house than poinsettias and holly.
After we moved out of the house, I made sure my mother had white roses at Christmas every year. Sometimes, it was a table arrangement. Sometimes, it was a corsage. Sometimes, the roses were artificial. Sometimes they were real. Sometimes, when I was particularly poor, it was just a Christmas card with white roses on it. No matter what, there was some form of white rose for my mother at Christmas.
One year after we moved to Florida, my mother announced that she did not want me to buy her white roses. Instead, she said, she wanted me to wait until spring when the stores were selling those sad looking dormant rosebushes the roots in a bag and plant her one of those.
“Oh crap, something else I have to figure out how to do,” I said. On the inside. On the outside, I smiled and said, “okay.” At least I figured I had a few months before spring to read up on rose resuscitation techniques. Who knows, maybe she would forget the whole idea.
A couple of weeks later, we were at Big Lots and a group of cub scouts were selling small plants for a couple of bucks. You guessed it. They had one small white rosebush, with a few little buds on it. My mother thought it was a sign from God that we should take it home and I should transplant it. So we did.
A couple of weeks went by, and the rosebush was looking rough. The term “scraggly” comes to mind. Eventually, when the rosebush seemed terminal, extraordinary measures were warranted. I went to Google to learn how to safely relocate the bush from its pot to my mother’s front yard. Armed with a print of the page, I went to the local home store and tried to purchase mulch, potting soil, and peat moss. When I came face-to-face with the bags of these items, I discovered that I could not even pick up the smallest bag of each of them without the aid of a chiropractor. Not to mention that the cost and quantity were overkill for one tiny rose plant. I finally noticed a small bag of something called “potting mix” a few shelves over from the gargantuan bags of mulch, potting soil, and peat moss. Sensing a conspiracy, I checked out the label and discovered that the $5 bag of “potting mix” contained…. mulch, potting soil, and peat moss! What a bonanza! I purchased the potting mix, feeling very accomplished. I was starting to get the hang of this gardening stuff.
Since I was on a roll, I went over to my mother’s mobile home and started digging the hole. I followed the directions from Google and stuck that little rosebush right into the ground. Filling the hole back up, I just said a prayer and hoped for the best.
Two nights later, there were record low temperatures. And frost.
God must have sent angels to blanket that rosebush, though. Against all odds and despite my complete ineptitude, it flourished. Within a couple of weeks, new buds started to blossom. The bush grew and the roses kept on blooming!
My success with the white roses was a powerful reminder of what I can do when motivated by love. It was also a powerful reminder of the part that flowers played in my relationship with my mother.
The concluding chapter of the flowery tale occurred several years later. On what would have been my mother’s 90th birthday, I contributed altar flowers for the Sunday service at my church. I asked the florist to make sure the arrangements included white roses and, especially, flowers with fragrant blooms. After the service, I brought the arrangements home and made potpourri out of them. Our parish ladies’ group sold these sachets with little “romance cards” that explained that the potpourri was made with love, prayers, and flowers from a worship service in our church.
My mother would have been happy.
If you could represent your life with a flower, what flower would it be? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bloom beautifully today!