Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mother's Day Memory

One of the pictures in my study is a photograph of two red Gerbera daisies. One is in full bloom and the other is just beginning to open. It looks like a sunshiny day. The flower’s foliage is lush and green. Occasionally someone will pick up the picture and ask, “Why do you have a picture of these two flowers on your desk?” And I answer their question with a story. 

It goes back more than twenty years. Coming home from a two-week trip I began to catch up on the news with my wife. She had traveled south while I had studied up north. On the way home she had stopped by my mother’s house in Georgia and learned she was in the hospital. In her eighties, Mother’s trips to the hospital were coming closer together.

“Oh by the way,” my wife said, “your mother sent you some flowers. Gerbera daisies,” she said. My wife reported, “Just before she got sick she told me that she went to a nursery, found two plants at a good price. She instructed me to go by her house when I left the hospital, get the daisies, be careful with them, and bring them home to you. She gave me strict instructions not to plant them here.” We were moving soon and so she told my wife, “That old red South Carolina mud won’t grow nothin’—take the plants to Memphis and plant them when you move.”  

When I talked to my mother on the telephone she wanted to know about the daisies. “Give them plenty of water, keep them out of the full sun until they’re planted and take them with you to Memphis. Now don’t put them in that moving van—you put them in your car.”That was our last conversation. She died less than a week later. 

I left the plants with a neighbor while we went to Georgia for the funeral. I wanted to make sure they were all right. And so we stood with family and friends in the cemetery on a hot July afternoon and said our sad goodbyes. 

We moved weeks later to Tennessee. One of the last things I did as we closed up our house was to put the daisies in my car. A week later on a hot Sunday morning I planted my daisy plants in the Tennessee soil in our side yard. It was a painful time, planting the flowers my Mother had given me. Grief came surging back. As I mulched the flowers I remember praying, “Dear God, let them live. Let them live.” It was late August. 

My birthday fell on a Saturday in October that year. As I went to get the paper I was dumbfounded by what I saw. One of the daisies had the prettiest red bloom and another bud was barely opening. I don’t know much about this flower except October is very late for a Gerbera daisy to bloom. I charged into the house and told my wife, “You won’t believe what’s outside. One of mother’s daisies is blooming on my birthday!”It was her final gift of so many others she had given me through the years. Even after her death, her gift came alive. The long arm of her love touches me still. The picture you see here I took on that birthday morning.

Frost came early that year. The flowers wilted. I hoped the daisies would live through the winter—but Gerbera daisies don’t usually do that. The next spring the flowers never came up. But this I know—that daisy bloomed on my birthday. The flowers didn’t come back—but they did their work in a hard time. And even after all these years I look at that picture and smile. Grace, stubborn grace, comes in the strangest of ways. And so I told my friend this is why I keep this picture of that gerbera daisy on my desk.

(This one of my favorite Mama stories.  I had this piece on my blog several years ago--but I wanted to share it with those who have not read it--but might enjoy it.)

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Several years ago I attended the funeral of a very great lady in Huntsville, Alabama. At that service one of her daughter's read the following poem. I had never read this poem by Billy Collins before. It can be found in his book, The Trouble With Poetry. He has captured Mother's Day in a wonderful tribute.

The Lanyard

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly--
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that's what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
 and here, in the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift--not the worn truth

that you can never replay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

(In loving memory of my mother, Ruth Kelley Lovette who died in 1988.)

Just read Timothy Egan's moving story of his mother's last weeks. Quite a tribute. Quite a woman.  "The Last Mother's Day."  Worth the read.

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