Petals Mark Our Paths

It’s a chilly day, but despite the cold, a guy stands at the intersection where drivers wait for the light. He’s selling bouquets of long-stemmed red roses, the kind men who forget may seriously need. The kind my aunt sent for my father’s funeral because, as she wrote, “red roses are for someone you love.”

We’re high-tech: industrial robots, space travel to the moon, mobile phones with multiple ring tones. But toddlers— drawn to deep yellow fuzz— still pick dandelions to give to their moms. Teen-aged girls still want corsages. So do golden-anniversary grandmas. Adults go to parties and visit sick friends, their hands filled with gifts of blossoms. From bassinette to coffin, flowers mark our keenest moments.

I’m five years old. Mom sends me outdoors to play on a sunny spring day. I look up at a flowering quince, taller than I am, covered with blossoms and bees. Sweet scent, sound of humming, salmon-pink cups dotted with yellow inside. I’m transfixed, filled with wonder. The moment is the first of many.

We move to a different house. I take myself out to play. Again it is spring, and in the back yard, an apple tree. Climbing up, I’m surrounded by white and pink petals, sweet aroma, the sound of humming. I sit on a branch, lean on another.

Winter. I arrive home frazzled by high school final exams. Outside the dining room window, icicles lie shattered on the hard frozen crust. Inside, on a glass shelf, an African violet has burst into color. Velvet plush – really purple. I go to find cookies.

A spring, many springs; a summer, many summers. Lavender lilacs in a round blue glass bowl. Phlox perfume at dusk. Mock orange blowing into my parents’ bedroom windows. Sweet peas twining up chicken wire. Pinned to a prom dress, gardenias. A bright tangle of cheeky petunias in a white rowboat, a shore-town name painted on the stern.

I’m a waitress one summer. On the Vermont lake, white water lilies with long rubbery stems. I’ve been studying Taoism, the human spirit a lotus, rooted in muck but rising through water to open pure ivory petals. From a rowboat, I pick a bouquet for a widow, vacationing solo. Placed on her table, the lilies close quickly.

In a fourth-floor walkup in New York, I don’t like being so far removed from the ground. My boyfriend builds me window boxes for my tarred terrace. I manage to grow enough mint for one julep, after I’ve washed off the fly ash. I understand the cartoon of the New York couple eating supper on their balcony. The husband is inside on the phone. His wife calls, “Hurry up, Harry. Your soup’s getting dirty.”

The boyfriend transforms to husband. I make wedding corsages with roses from my father’s garden, red for my mother, white for my husband’s mother. From a field by a river where my family took Sunday afternoon walks, my sister and I pick masses of Joe Pye weed and Queen Anne’s lace to decorate my parents’ front porch.

We rent and garden. Dig sod and change a corner of a field into a garden. Move on, leaving gardens behind. My husband wants to buy a handyman’s special. I’m not so sure but finally agree because the backyard has a trellis of red, pink, white, and yellow climbing roses.

Children stand transfixed in the garden as I stood transfixed in my father’s garden where rain formed diamonds in the cruxes of lupine leaves. The children suck sweet drops from the honeysuckle, hide in the tall leafy rhubarb, bite into tomatoes.

Fall changes to winter. Lush rhubarb turns to slime. Raspberry canes go brittle and brown. Where day lilies tilted in orange profusion, dead oak leaves rot. Under snow, the raised vegetable beds look like graves.

The mailman plops seed catalogues on the front hallway carpet. I order a crepe myrtle.

The season’s wheel turns, the life cycle spirals.

A grandparent’s ashes to scatter on thyme, iris, roses. A grandchild looking up at a sunlit crepe myrtle.

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