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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Rose

A rose, that flower who above all others seeks perfection
Its petals clinging even as they curl outward.
A rose, that flower grown to be given away.
To cheer the sad or unwell, court the lover, or beg forgiveness.
A rose that when grouped with others of its kind
becomes a voluptuous symbol of abundance . . .
abundance of love, of care, of time.
For few flower takes more of these.
Few flowers require more attention.

When you receive a rose remember these things.
Appreciate what came before its blossom.
Remember the thorns that have been suffered
to bring you this rose.

Like snowflakes, no two gardens are alike.  My garden is long, bigger than average and sometimes a bit wild, bordered by woods and hayfields.  I like curved lines and surprises. But I learned to love gardening from my parents. Mom and Dad were gardeners.Their garden was tame with straight lines, parallel to the house, sidewalk or road. My garden is never fully weeded.  It is way too big for that. (Or I am way too lax about weeding.) A weed seldom lasted past sundown in my parents rose bed
 My parents' summer evenings were spent in the yard pulling weeds or gently watering plants.   Of all their plants they had in their yard, the most care was given to their roses.  The roses were pampered like children wished they were. Each spring, roses damaged by winter's cold were cut back or dug out of the bed.  The bed was prepared, boxes of new plants that had been ordered from catalogues were opened and their contents lovingly planted. Later in the spring, after rural barns had been cleaned out, a couple men in a beat up old pickup truck with battered sides would drive through our neighborhood, knocking on doors to ask the residents if they would like some manure.  My parents always said yes, even when times were lean. After the manure was worked into the newly acquired topsoil, roses were planted then covered with mulch.  
I helped with the watering. My mother showed me how to hold the hose down at the base of each plant assuring that each received its share of water without a single drop of that city water landing on a leaf.  There would be no spots on these rose leaves. I liked to place the tip of the hose under the mulch and watch the mulch swell as water ran under it like a living thing, a snake slowly crawling just beneath the surface.

Each year they would study the buds searching for that one bloom that would be most perfect the day of the rose show. Both leaf and bloom had to be perfect.  They had to have the bud timed so that the rose would be open fully at just the right moment for judging. Mom would then clip the chosen few, put each in water and take to the state capitol building where it was joined by the dozens of other perfect choices entered by rose enthusiasts from around West Virginia.  The next day, we would go down to the capitol building, (just a couple miles away) and walk, starting in the rotunda, echoing with soft mumbled voices of visitors walking from entry to entry, stoop-backed studying the roses, admiring the color, shape, size, trying to appear nonchalant, cool, all-the-while each person surreptitiously looked for his or her own entry anxious to find out his own rose's rating.
Mom and Dad received enough first place blue ribbons to keep them coming back year after year, visiting with and competing against old friends and neighbors who admired each others rose achievements.
Later, my dad would bring the ribbons home long after all the roses that had filled the marble hallways had faded, their petals fallen off, their perfection only a memory.
As much as my parents enjoyed competing with their roses, they enjoyed the actual roses even more.  Our dining room table or sideboard was seldom without a bouquet of roses in season and the season lasted most of the summer.  Only during the hottest weeks was the rose bed without blooms, blooms that would return for the cooler days preceding frost.  Early in the morning while clear droplets of dew still rested on the roses, my mother would don her gloves and armed with only the best clippers, would go out to the yard to gather roses.  From petite tea roses with their tightly packed petals to the open-face blooms of larger rose bushes, the "wild" roses, mom  selected her bouquets.  Each stem was carefully laid on newspaper that had been placed on the damp ground. She would take the entire bunch into the kitchen where she would select stems and arrange her bouquets in cut glass vases that were wedding gifts or antique vases that had belonged to her parents or aunts. 
Her vases were filled to pastel abundance that would grace our table or that of a neighbor or sick friend.  Nobody who wanted them would be left without roses. Mom always said that with roses, like love, the more we gave away, the more we had.  She taught me how to cut them too. Go down to just below a group of five leaves.  That way you would be assured new buds. 

My father died over twenty-five years ago.  I now realize that one of the things my mother missed most was spending the evening with him among the roses.  They shared a quiet camaraderie as together they weeded, pruned and admired their roses.  Though Dad was gone, Mom continued to care for the rose bed.  Through the years it has become smaller, her hands have become less nimble, her back doesn't easily bend and most of the weeding is done from a lawn chair with her cane close by.  But the roses are still beautiful.  They still cause walkers to slow down or perhaps stop and admire their shape and color.  Neighbors still stop to chat while mom weeds.  Many will even join in for a few moments to pull a weed or two.  At 87, she hires help now to prepare the bed for planting, but each spring she still removes the old broken bushes and plants new ones, planning ahead for the summer when they will show-off their colors. The bed has a few more weeds, the edging is a bit crooked, but as the straight lines have become less so, my mother's eye sight has  also faded, so that's okay.  After all, it is the roses people see.  It is the roses that make people happy, brighten their day.
Her newest variety has edges dipped in white.  I've never seen a rose any prettier.  It opens round and full with those white tipped petals looking like they are bathed in light.

When I study a bud ready to open, I see the work of my mother.  I see her hands lovingly cup a bloom admiring the beauty she has been allowed to raise.  In the veins of the unopened petals I see her skin, aged with lines that represent her character; represent years of loving care and stewardship, care for her neighbors, care for her community and her family. 
A rose is still beautiful as it ages; as it gives in to gravity,
each petal perfect in its own way, even when disconnected, when it cannot hold itself together as it slowly floats in the wind.
Still beautiful


Kelly said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. Your narration was beautiful. My grandma's name was Rose, and she too loved to garden, roses always among her favorite. She taught me everything I know about gardening and seeds. Your post really brought back memories of Granmdma Rose. Your mom sounds like a special person.

ANNE G. said...

oh my goodness! What a walk down memory lane. That was beautiful Nellie! How wondrful to honor your mother in such a fitting way! Thanks for sharing!