Flowers outlast us
By Tom Poland
Despite all those bygone years the memory remains. Having my photograph taken. That was a big deal before phones turned cameras. There I am, circa 1957, standing amid green and yellow clumps of daffodils. Dad posed me in their midst for my Easter photo. I stand just so lest I trample the tender stems. Got my new white bucks and Sunday finest on, fresh flattop haircut and a gap-toothed smile, but I best not step on any daffodils, and I best not stain my white suede shoes. Right, Carl?
Dad pushes a button, and the Polaroid makes a whirring noise as the self-developing film slides forth. He peels away a white layer and there I am. I recall it as if it were yesterday, but it was yesteryear, and the photo? Lost in the dustbin of years gone by.
So I thought. Half a century later going through my late mother’s possessions, I discovered that photo. Beneath a worn leather-bound Bible in a desk hid a yellow-brown photograph, that Polaroid print taken Easter Day circa 1957. The daffodils were just as I remember. Five clumps. Two in front. Three in back. Those daffodils stand tall in memory not because I stepped gingerly around them, but because of what happened next.
Out comes Grandmom and what does she do? She cuts them and goes inside. I stare at the amputated stalks I so carefully avoided, then run into the farmhouse. Grandmom’s at the sink putting the daffodils in a Mason jar. Into it she pours blue food coloring. Soon, the flowers draw up the dye and delicate blue-green tributaries run through spring’s golden trumpeters. Each flower soon sports a blue-green corona. Sheer magic. Ever since, seeing daffodils never fails to resurrect Mason jar flowers with aquamarine edges. Of course daffodils give me the first cue that spring will pry winter’s icy fingers from the land, but they never fail to remind me of that Easter when worry gave way to joy.
Camellias don’t bloom in my boyhood memory for a simple reason. We had no “cold flowers.” As a boy I believed that to have camellias, you had to live in a mansion with Augusta National-like landscaping. Our grounds consisted of grass, pines, and, here and there, honeysuckle, oaks, and one magnolia. And then decades later at Edisto Island, I got an unforgettable introduction to camellias.
As I drove to Edisto Island on a gray January day long ago, a thought occurred to me. “A childhood without camellias.” My mission was to profile camellia expert Colonel Parker Connor Jr. who lived in a plantation home. (See what I mean?) I found the Colonel on the grounds of Oak Island Plantation, 1828, a home overlooking the marsh. The morning was cool as we walked the grounds. Colonel Connor pointed to a delicate blossom. “That’s a Miss Charleston.” As the Colonel pointed out other camellias, “Dawn’s Early Light, Boutonniere, Walterboro, and Wildwood,” I decided I would grow camellias, too, and when I had my yards landscaped I put in a dozen camellias. My interest in camellias blossomed. That, in part, led me to the camellia tea in Edgefield a few years back. We sipped tea from the Charleston Tea Plantation and beautiful blooms, properly annotated, brought the Classic South alive. Polished silver tea sets gleamed as window light struck them. Faces in oil on canvas gazed at participants. It was an occasion, a flowery beautiful occasion.
The beautiful camellias could never have rivals you’d think, but you’d be wrong. I present dogwoods and their snow-white blossoms. When Mom talked about dogwoods you could not miss the excitement in her voice. She loved them and long had one near the old propane tank that banished many a winter’s frigid air. I loved that tree’s snow-white emblematic blossoms that a botanist will tell you are bracts, not blossoms. Mom and her dogwood are no more, but whenever I see snowstorm-like cottony dogwoods popping out in dark woods they spirit me back to my long-gone Georgia childhood.
Lord, Lord, change never stops. That sink where Grandmom poured blue food coloring into a Mason jar? Well, it lies in ashes. Her house burned a few years back. Nothing from childhood remains except memories and even that yellow-brown Polaroid print taken by my late father is no more. Misplaced. “All gone” as kids will say.
Well, we carry on don’t we. Come spring, daffodils will rise through the ashes of Grandmom’s old home. Those daffodils will convince me winter is giving way to spring, and something more. Flowers outlast us. When we are in the ground or our ashes scattered or imprisoned in some urn or box, daffodils, camellias, and dogwoods will keep bringing beauty to the land. Someday a boy not yet born will stand in his own clumps of daffodils. As for me, this Easter I’ll go back to those same daffodils in new white bucks. I’ll set up my Canon and take one of those “then and now” photographs. All the while, I’ll be careful not to trample the great, great, great grandblooms of those original daffodils for the old ways, well, they sure die hard, don’t they.