Archives for posts with tag: roses

Funerals and flowers are on my mind again. My mom’s sister-in-law Aunt Maxine died last week. They were the last of their generation in the family, and she was my last person to call Aunt or Uncle.     

Seeing her surrounded by beautiful floral arrangements reminded me of a story my mom told me about a time long ago, when most people were so poor that the things we take for granted were beyond reach. Though people desperately wanted to honor their loved ones with flowers, sometimes it was simply impossible. Or so it seemed.
My mom was a little girl, going about her day, most likely following her mother around the house as she did her daily chores, helping when she could. When a knock came at the door, my grandmother opened it to find two very sad black neighbor ladies.

After exchanging greetings the ladies explained that a little child in their family had died. They were distraught, because they couldn’t afford to buy flowers for the funeral and couldn’t bear to bury such a beloved family member without flowers at all. 

They had come to Miss Georgie, known for her yard full of beautiful flower beds, to ask for a few of her flowers. My grandmother was also known for her kindness and compassion, and with good reason. She said of course they could have flowers. Then she thought for a bit. She smiled and told them to leave for a while and then come back. She would have some flowers ready for them.
Most people would have gone out to select a bouquet for the child’s funeral. Others would have picked her most beautiful blooms and tied them with a saved scrap of ribbon. Miss Georgie was neither. Her category was extraordinary people.

She went into the veritable garden she lived in and picked the most beautiful of her roses and lillies. She gathered ferns and any other complimenting small flowers she thought would help make the collection as beautiful as possible. When she came inside, she did find ribbon, but she went far above and beyond what had been asked of her.
My mom watched, fascinated, as her mother collected cardboard, newspapers, and sewing supplies. She sat down to cut a wreath shape out of the cardboard, then again from layers of newspaper. Somehow, she knew how to fashion a funeral arrangement, by sewing the flowers and ferns to the newspaper sheets thickened by layering, then sewing that to the cardboard, complete with the requisite ribbon bow. My mom told me that by the time it was finished the handmade funeral wreath was as beautiful as anything made by professional florists. 

The grieving ladies came back expecting a handful of simple flowers they could lay on a little child’s grave. What they were presented with was a gorgeous handmade funeral wreath that looked as if it had been professionally made. They were thrilled and so very grateful. My grandmother had been very moved by their plight and was so happy to be able to make a terrible time just a little better. And that day, watching her work so lovingly to help a family in need, made my mom love her mother just a little bit more.

Last summer when I was ordering flowers for my mom’s casket, I got started talking to the florist about this story. He thought it was wonderful and told me that was actually the way they made funeral wreaths so long ago. I don’t know how my grandmother learned to do it, and so well. What I do know is that I’m very proud to be Miss Georgie’s granddaughter.

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I wasn’t thinking about how crowded Walmart would be tonight, when I went to get groceries. I realized soon enough, of course. Last minute trawlers for Valentines loomed at every turn, as well as all the accoutrements that go with the holiday.

As I carefully made my way past a large table of flower arrangements, I admired various colors of roses. One bouquet in particular caught my eye.
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These roses were almost completely white, except for many of the petals that were barely tinged with a pinkish crimson. Normally, I would admire and walk on, but these roses were special. To me. Or perhaps more accurately to my muse.

I recently wrote a short story set in Paris. Near the end I wrote in a single white rose with crimson tinged petals, to symbolize the purity and barely blooming passion of the couple at its heart. I didn’t remember seeing roses exactly like that and could only hope they really exist.
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Thrilled to have stumbled across such lovely proof, I managed to avoid the jostling elbows of romantic souls seeking the perfect symbol of their love, as I pulled out my phone to take some pictures.
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So some lucky lady will end up with a pretty bouquet, never suspecting that someone else treasures pictures of her imaginary Paris rose.

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     Caroline shouldered her way through the library door, arms laden with all manner of books.  There were novels and coffee table books about flowers and travel, volumes of poetry and stories of girls and their horses, anything she could think of that might spark a gleam of interest in the fading blue of her mother’s eyes. 

She paused to draw in an appreciative lungful of crisp, invigorating air, and admire the bright blue sky.  It contrasted appealingly with the colorful leaves of ornamental trees that lined the drive, azure, bronze, and maple red rubbing shoulders dramatically.  Fall had been her favorite time of year, but lately she found herself longing for the sense of renewal accompanied by spring. 

Fighting off a fleeting surge of reluctance, she went to the small haven that was her car, and drove home.  As she entered her apartment, the scent of baking apples welcomed her, but she knew it was only a candle burning in unconscious mockery. 

“Hello, Miss Caroline!”  The motherly woman who met her with a smile and a quick hug also mimicked what might have been.  What had been, once upon a time.

“Good evening, Betsy.  How is…everything?”

Betsy shrugged minutely.  “Pretty good.  We’ve had worse days.  ‘Night.”

She eased out the door, leaving Caroline to dump the books onto the hall table and walk alone to the chair by the living room window.  Caroline knelt to hug the frail figure seated there, but the elderly woman jerked free and looked up with almost feral alarm.

“Who are you?”

Ignoring the sharp fear in the petulant voice, Caroline swallowed back her deep hurt and backed off.  “It’s me, Mom.  Caroline.”

Immediate calm.  “My little Caroline?  How was your day, dear?  Did you pass your test?”

“Yes, Mom, I passed.”

“Oh, good!  I knew you could.  Math was always so hard for me.  But your father…”

“Yes, Mom, I remember.  He was a pip!”

“Pip?  Mama…?  Did Pip get out of his pen again?”

“No, Pip is fine.”  Long experience had taught Caroline to play along.  “Everything is all right.”

“Mama?  Tell me a story.  About a long time ago.”

Caroline slipped into the persona of her maternal grandmother.  She had heard the stories so often from this lovely, lost woman before her that she could tell them in her sleep.  She sat on the ottoman by her mother’s chair, and placed an arm around the familiar shoulders. 

“One day your father was in a hurry to go to work, and without looking, put goop in his hair.  Then he realized he had slicked down his thick, wavy hair with Pop’s denture cream!  He  tried for two days to get it out but he just kept looking like Albert Einstein with a bad hair day!”

Her mother clapped her hands. 

“And that’s when he started wearing a crew cut!”

“That’s right!”

They laughed together for a time.  Then her mother stilled, and grew wistful.

“Tell me about the roses, Mama.  That’s my favorite.”

“When I was a girl, my friends and I would cut the last of the roses.” 

Caroline closed her eyes, imagination drenched in the past. 

“We took them to the little meadow down by the creek, and spread them out all over the grass.  A carpet of roses, all colors, different scents, perfect and so beautiful that it was as if we were in a dream.

“We’d have a tea party, every single year since we were just children until we all grew up and life kept us from it.  Always the same place, always the final roses…the smell was like a living thing…”

Caroline kissed the soft, pink cheek and shivered a little.  It was as if three generations occupied the twilight shadows instead of two–grandmother, mother, and daughter–all linked by memories, and love, and the brief, cherished stepping out of time, to smell the roses again.