Happiness, I think, must have been hard-won during the Great Depression. My grandmother planted flowers. Not just a daisy here or there, but a glut of them. Row upon row of iris, tulips, gladioli. Peony bushes so heavy with blossoms they toppled over. Roses climbing trellises, poppies wagging bonneted heads, lilies stooping, sleepy on their long stems.
Of course, of course, a garden! Times were hard, so – tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, carrots, onions. Yes, all that and more, but the flowers . . . the flowers were her happiness, and I love to picture my mom working with her, small girl with straight bangs and a cotton dress, crouched beneath a sun hat, between the pink-lavender-scarlet rows.
My mother left the shelter of the valley when she married – moved up the hill where the weather was in constant, vivid motion, a clean wind endlessly scouring the prairie. She planted flowers. It was harder there, the soil not as amiable to the fickle seeds, but she worked at it. And when the wind caught in the lilacs to push their sweetness through the old farmhouse, it smelled like home in every room.
Of course, it became home.
I was a farmer’s daughter, and more interested in my father’s pursuits than my mother’s. Haying or running a combine made flower-work into child’s play, a triviality. Not until I’d moved away - had my own children, an old station wagon and a plethora of unpaid bills – did I begin to appreciate the tender resilience of women and flowers.
I planted cannas - the largest, brightest variety I could get my hands on. From seeds. My little girl followed with a toy watering can while the baby watched from his playpen beneath the awning, and then we checked on them every day. By the time the new shoots poked through the mud, the homesickness and heartache had subsided a bit. We’d begun to call that alien patch of hard-scrabble yard home.
And the blossoms were glorious, big as a man’s palm and red as clown paint. They nurtured me – dazzled my eyes and fed my soul - until I was strong enough to stand well on my own.
*From left to right: my grandmother, my mother, and my daughter.
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