Someone Else’s Daffodils: A Posy Queen’s Lament

Flowers 2

I enjoyed being the Posy Queen at work.

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The daffodils were gorgeous this early spring, and this year, especially, I marveled at the different kinds I have in my yard.  There are the big, lush, bright yellow ones–the traditional kind, a little loud, a little common maybe, but bold and true and cheerful.  There are tender little daffs with creamy petals surrounding pale peach bells.  Some have orange button eyes; some are pure butter cream all over.  Shades of yellow, pops of orange–I went out to pick and experienced a sort of holy frenzy.

So I picked a LOT of daffodils, and still they budded and bloomed.

I put bunches all over the house–in blue-tinged mason jars and in dark green olive oil bottles with lavish, pretty labels, put them in sunny windows and in dark-ish corners. And still I had more daffodil blooms from my culling and cutting mania, tossed in heaps on the kitchen counter, awaiting determination.

That’s why I was driving to work with big bundles of fresh cut flowers cradled in wet newspaper and wrapped in cones of foil, rocking gently on my backseat.  Mason jars rolled and knocked on the floor.  In the parking lot, I scooped it all up, my work bags hanging from both shoulders, my arms full of flower cones, elbows pinning mason jars tightly to my sides. I carried it all into the employee kitchen, spent precious morning email time snipping and arranging flowers.  I shared with my wonderful, wry, funny colleagues.

I put my own bunch of blooms, happy in a blue ceramic mug thrown by our artist friend Robin, in the middle of my little round office table and went off for a morning slate of meetings.  When I came  back, a wonderful friend–kind of a “Secret Easter Bunny,”– had left some bold red carnations and frothy fans of baby’s breath outside my door.

I grabbed my scissors, snipping stems.

Oh, I loved how the red carnations and the baby’s breath moved right in, nudged hips, stretched, and settled into that blue mug with those daffodils!  They made themselves at home; they looked just like they were meant to live in that yard-cut, yellow-flower, world.

For our Easter celebration that weekend, I stopped at Kroger and bought a bunch of red carnations, and I spread red and yellow flower celebrations throughout the Easter house–a fine shout-out, I thought, to a new-life kind of season.

And every other day that Easter week, I would go out in the yards and pick some more. My goodness, there’s a never-ending supply of daffodils, and they’re in surprising pop-up spots–there are daffodils by the compost bin out back, and under the old pine tree; there are daffs by the rustic wood fence that the deer enjoy jumping, on the dividing line we share with Shirley. And then there’s the mini-Wordsworthian fields of daffs in the front yard. I supplied both house and workshop.

My colleagues loved me.  People stopped by my office to ahhhhh at my flowers.  Oh, it was lovely–that daffodilian notoriety.

And then Sunday morning, I bounded out of bed early and ran downstairs with the dog at my heels.  I turned the coffee to ‘on’ and opened up the back door…and the world was white.  Snow.  Snow blown hard inside the car port, icing the cars’ hoods; snow on the walks, and snow on the grass. The little prissy dog looked up in complaint, but forged out into it, of necessity.

Snow sugaring the pine tree boughs.  Snow highlighting the rough wood fence slats.

And snow, warping and heavy, on my daffodils.

Many of them scrunched buds and gave up.  My reign as Posy Queen was over.

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This little house we love so well was built in 1937, almost 80 years ago.  And during most of that time–until we came along four years ago–it was lived in by the same family, the Normans. He was an engineer at the plant down the hill; at night, when the little dog and I go out for last daily rites, we look over the ridge and see the bright and busy factory lights.  We hear the clash and chunka chunk of its still active machines.

I wonder if, as a young man, a newlywed, he would dress in his white shirt and tie (he was known, they tell us, for doing yardwork in his shirt and tie), read his morning paper over breakfast, then fold it up and kiss the wife, grab, maybe, a portfolio or a briefcase, and head off on foot, down the hill, and around the sloping curve on Norwood Drive, hoofing it to work in those Depression days.

I wonder about the young wife, at home with two little girls, keeping house in a home that was smaller then; the addition that added the family room and enlarged the kitchen wouldn’t happen until the 1960’s.

And the yard was smaller, too, at first.  Townsfolk hint that Mr. Norman’s parents gave him a single, initial, plot of land, had the house built for him and his bride…but the jury was out on whether or not they completely liked her.  When they decided, finally, that she’d do quite well, thank you, they threw in some extra land, doubling the sweep of the front-yard, extending the scope and slope of the back.

The neighbors who’ve been here long days tell us stories, too, about Mr. Norman’s garden expertise.  (They tell it in a sighing kind of way, and we hear it as a nostalgically longing lament: Remember how NICE the yards looked when Bill lived here?) The Mr., go the stories, was a garden and landscape wizard.  The Mrs. was a cut flower display aficionado.  Together, they grew the flowers and arranged the flowers and they swept the horticulture ribbons at the local county fair.

We have inherited much of their backyard bounty.  So I have all those wonderful daffodils.  I have something I call snowdrops, blooming now, big drooping waxy bells that look like giant lilies of the valley. I have regular iris and African iris. I have stubborn day lilies that pop up unexpectedly and bloom defiantly until the deer meander along and eat them.  I have a little pink tea rose that’s just as stubborn; I look out the kitchen window and watch Baby Buck efficiently munching off every bloom, and then the next day, more buds explode. It’s a summer-long waltz of blossom and nosh.

Hosta rims my backyard, solid-leafed and variegated, and it is so thick and dense the deer eat their fill, and still it looks lush and vibrant.  Every year I dig up shovelsful, separate the roots, transplant them out front along the retaining wall, and every year, when the leaves begin to spread, thick and glossy, the deer stroll by, dip their heads, thank me for fast food.  But one day–ah, one day, those hosta, too, will be so thick and densely packed the deer can eat their fill and still I’ll have my glowing border.

We have rhodedendrons that aren’t quite making it and lilac, overgrown and woody, and a bunch of ragged forsythia against the rustic fence. We have a gardener’s bounty.

I wish I were a gardener.

I try to do my best.  There’s a commitment passed on, I think, an obligation to tend what’s been planted in the past, a need to honor those earlier gardeners.  All those plantings.  All that work.  All those visions of what will be, how it will look when the seedlings fill in, and the plants mature and the volunteers provide hundreds of extra blooms…

In every place I’ve lived in, I’ve always felt I owed it to the people who planted to honor their future dreams. I think of the house my parents lived in for twenty years, rented but lovingly tended, and how, if I drive by this summer, I will see the hosta my mother started from seeds burgeoning, thick and full and waxy along the side of the house.  Marsha took some of those clippings when Mom and Dad moved to their little retirement apartment, and those hosta are still glorious, abundant, growing toward the sun around Marsha’s welcoming house.

We must, when we can, keep things going.

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When we moved in, this house was shaded by five huge trees, front and side and back; think of Mr. Norman years ago, in his rolled up shirt-sleeves and tie, deftly digging holes for the root balls of tender saplings.  Paying it toward the future.

Within two years, though, of our arrival,  it became clear three of those trees were sick, were dying; they were dropping limbs in windstorms; their leaves were scant and spotted.

Tree cutters came and efficiently cut the trees away, and they hauled the wood; they returned the next spring, and rototilled the stumps and roots so thoroughly no trace of tree remained.  I felt a little sense of mourning, and a sort of sense of fulfillment–the kind of feeling I have when some beloved aged person dies, almost–the end of a long, full, satisfying lifetime, youth to growth to maturity to failing…the poignant, pressing, proper scheme of things.

For trees, yes; for us, too.

Larry came to visit, lovely Larry with his artist’s eye and his green thumb, and the next time we were out his way, he loaded my car with saplings.  They were carefully packed and accompanied by a neatly detailed list of what should go where and which would flower and what to expect in terms of growth and shade.

We used that list to judiciously plant those saplings.  And then we lost that list.  So little trees boldly grow, defying deer and weather, protected from mowers and lawn-walkers, stubborn and determined, in our yard. We don’t know what they’ll yield. The biggest one looks as though it will bud into flower, its first year of budding, in not so many days.  And then we’ll get the plant guide out and identify its type, so we can say proudly, next time we see Larry, “Hey! The…whatchamacallit is blooming!”

But we didn’t plant those trees for ourselves.  This house will have some other tenants when those saplings are mature; other feet will follow the mower around their sturdy roots, and other hands will harvest sheaves of daffodils.  Those trees, Larry’s gift to us, are our gift to–and our belief in–the future.

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Mr. Norman’s vision allowed me, for a bright and pretty moment,  to be the office Posy Queen.  I think I owe it to him–and to his wife, who arranged those blooms so deftly,–to nurture their flowering dreams.

 

Walking in My Neighborhood, Several Stories Deep

Maxie, the newly appointed mayor of the neighborhood...
Maxie, the newly appointed mayor of the neighborhood…

I clip the leash onto the collar of my wacky little dog, Greta, and pull open the back door. Greta stiffens, and I look down to see Maxie, the new mayor of the neighborhood, standing expectantly outside the storm door.

Maxie is a black cat with a priest’s collar; his head is the size and shape of a squashed softball. He is sleek and talkative. He waits in the ivy, under the shrubs that line the drive, when I come home. As soon as I open the car door, he starts his approach, spouting a long line of complaints: Yowlyowlmewwwwrrrryowlyou! MEW.

He always ends decisively, waiting for a response.

I usually give him a little piece of frozen turkey from a baggie in the freezer; he accepts this, but seems none too thrilled.

Max lives with the Next-to-Newest Neighbors across the street–a lovely mom and her just-college age daughter. Max was the daughter’s friend’s cat. When Daughter’s Friend was going off to school, Daughter’s Friend’s Dad calmly informed her he was going to shoot the damned cat.

Apparently he wasn’t kidding; so, Maxie came home with our next-to-newest neighbor.

He’s an outdoor guy, Max: he only goes in when the weather is too cold for cats to sleep au naturel. Meantime, he prowls the neighborhood, making sure everything is safe. He spends a lot of time with Shirley, our elderly, widowed neighbor. He naps in her window well. She provides food and drink in case Max needs a little nosh.

Sometimes I’ll pull up the driveway and see Max sitting outside Sandy’s Florida room next door, staring hungrily through the window at her squawking gray parrot, who is not amused by the visitation. And for a while, Max decided he wanted to check out the Newest Neighbors’ home across the street. He would stand by their front door and warble insistently. From the house, deep ominous barks resounded. Maxie was unfazed, but the Newest Neighbors did not seem inclined to let him in to explore.

Today, Maxie glances at Greta on the leash, then looks at me in disgust. Really? he registers clearly. Walking that stupid dog??? He gives his sleek shoulders a shake and ambles off toward his nest in the ivy. Greta rumbles deep in her throat and pulls me toward the yard and the front walk. Let’s avoid that scary cat, she’s implying.

We head out to the street. Maxie forgotten, Greta settles in to a nice sniffing meander. We don’t get two steps before she finds a fascinating pocket of scent. We stop, and I gaze across the street, at the lights down below, twinkling out this early morning. A walk with the Grets is a stop and start affair.

Our neighborhood traces a ravine; my house is on the firmly planted side. Across the street, where Next-to-Newest and Newest Neighbors have their sparkling white abodes, the houses perch. Front yards are lovely; back yards drop off abruptly.

The ravine is long and steep and wooded, a refuge for a herd of deer who wander up, unabashed, almost daily. We watch the babies grow up during the summer; we watch the wary relationship between Senior Buck and Junior Buck. Greta snuffles up their scent, fascinated, and they obligingly leave lots of it around, sometimes in freshly steaming piles on the pine needle carpets in our backyard.

Woe to my plantings; they’re fast food for deer. But this Spring—hah! I have a recipe from my woods-and-fields-savvy friend Theresa. I’ll be dousing my hosta, my impatiens, my everything, with the Theresa Formula. Take that, you foraging deer.

There are gray squirrels and black squirrels in the neighborhood; they bore Greta, who just ignores them. There are bunnies, too, and chipmunks, — although, come to think of it, not as many sightings occur since Maxie’s moved in.

Having read her olfactory messages, the dog snorts and we move on. Phyllis’s house is the last on the street, ravine-side. It has a lovely side deck, between the house and a little woods. The driveway leads right up to that deck, which overlooks the ravine, and, at night, a beautiful light display: you can see the busy commerce and industry of Linden Avenue just below; off to the southeast, the lights of the city glitter in the night sky.

The way Phyllis’s house is situated, the street at the corner leads right into her driveway.

One night, shortly after we moved in–congratulating ourselves on landing in this quiet neighborhood–(Mark would stand outside at night with his eyes closed and his arms at his side, palms parallel with the ground, murmuring, “It’s so QUIET.” Our vacated neighborhood was NOT.)–I went to bed early, worn out from the strenuous haul of moving and unpacking. I was reading in bed, eyelids drooping, when the sirens began, a low whining that grew closer and closer.

And closer. Soon, one could hear speeding cars, tires on pavement, brakes squealing; that grew rapidly closer, too. And then, very close, a crash!

I heard Mark’s startled exclamation, heard him scuffing into his old shoes, heard the front door open as he ran out to see what was going on. “Oh. BOY!” Jim said; he was, I could tell from the placement of his voice, standing at the front window.

I considered going down, but knew the Markmeister had it under control. He would tell me the story when he came in.

And so he did. Hotly pursued by a police cruiser, a car drove up the street, couldn’t make the turn, and flew right on to Phyllis’s deck. The driver jumped out and ran into the backyard, where he didn’t expect a ravine. He tumbled over the edge.

Mark stood with Phyllis and her husband Terry as the drama unfolded. The hapless driver, thinking to avoid arrest, crawled up the ravine at the other end of the street. The police, who’d been nonchalantly watching his progress, cuffed him and threw him into the cruiser, called for a tow truck, and took all the necessary information from Phyllis and Terry.

Mark, who works for a county government unit and gets all the juice, brought the details home next day.

Seems Driver Man was from a notorious ne’er-do-well family. Needing some weekend drinkin’ cash, he called for a pizza, thinking he’d take the delivery guy’s stash. Driver Man lived in an isolated country locale.

Delivery Guy arrived, got out of the car, and was confronted by Driver Man, wielding a pistol. Delivery Guy was big, and not a man for nonsense. He slapped the pizza box into Driver Man’s face and took his gun away. Then, when the pizza box fell off Driver Man’s face, Delivery Guy popped him a good one.

Down went Driver Man. Delivery Guy pulled out his cell phone and dialed 911. As he was talking to the dispatcher, Driver Man scrambled to his feet. Delivery Man popped him again.

Down, again, went Driver Man.

Now stop hitting him! the dispatcher purportedly said. Get in your car and drive back to work, and an officer will meet you there to pick up the gun and get your report.

O-kay, said Delivery Guy, reluctantly, but when Driver Man got up again, talking some smack, he couldn’t resist knocking him down one last time. By the time the police arrived, Driver Man had wobbled into his own vehicle, and the chase began.

They drove darned near all over the county before Driver Man flew his vehicle onto Phyllis’s deck, decimating it.

By the time the luckless felon crawled up the cliff, he was battered from the repeated poppings, scraped and cut from the fall down the ravine, and ready for medical attention and a comfortable bed in a cell.

The insurance rebuilt Phyllis and Terry’s deck, but it was one of the last times we saw him, that kind, friendly, helpful neighbor. He was hospitalized shortly after the Deck Event. He never came home. Now Phyllis and her sons and daughters-in-law and grandchildren enjoy sitting on that deck, talking softly on starry summer nights. But we know how much they miss Terry.

Greta makes her mandatory sniff-examination of Phyllis’s rose bush; satisfied, we wander across the street and up the long curving driveway of the Helen Purcell Home. Helen Purcell had been the sickly daughter of a local family in the early 1800’s. Since she was puny, anyway, she was designated as the one to stay home and care for Mamaw and Papaw. Her siblings went to school, got married, moved away; Helen learned to sew. And she was pretty [I so want to say ‘darned’] good at it. She took in sewing and made a little extra money.

And then, the parents both died, and there was Helen, suddenly and sadly free. She packed up her sewing stuff and her belongings and she moved herself to Cincinnati, where she set up shop. And she succeeded; she was a sought-after seamstress, and an independent woman.

Until her brother got sick. Then Helen was called home–her role, after all, was to care for the sick ones. She left her beloved independent life. She nursed her brother, but she never forgot her taste of freedom. She, the sickly one, outlived all her family contemporaries. When she died, she left her estate in trust, to establish a place where women in need could recover from whatever vicissitudes plagued them. It was a healing home for independent women needing to get back on their feet.

Now it is a home for the elderly; not so very long ago, they agreed, finally, to admit men, too, and the facility offers independent and assisted living and managed care. The staff is lovely, the residents energetic; there is a van that takes people out and about, although many of the residents park their own vehicles in the long carport that faces our house. In the lovely common area, with its polished paneled walls and massive fireplace, there is always a jigsaw puzzle in progress, and always clusters of people visiting and laughing. Not bad neighbors to have.

We round the expansive driveway, and come out on Norwood Boulevard, near the Mission Oaks Gardens. The park, open to all from dawn to dusk, is reached by crossing the Hendleys’ driveway. The Hendleys had a vision of a winding, meandering park within the city; they bought the house and acquired grounds abutting their property, then acquired more, and the gardens grew. We walk there in the good weather, sometimes sitting in the rustic log tea house; we watch throughout the summer, as the plants shoot up and bloom.

There are rhododendrons, local of root; all kinds of hosta; native flowers and imported flowers; trees and shrubs. There is a vast conifer garden. There are two ponds with tall waterfalls, and there are benches and gazebos and many places where a bride can splendidly pose.

It is not a place for Greta to walk, though. I am not sure, prissy city dog that she is, that she’d even consent to walk down the grassy paths; she’s a sidewalk girl, my Greta. But it doesn’t matter: she’s not invited. The park is home to an aging Scottie dog, who greets all visitors and likes a bit of a scratch. When we moved into the neighborhood, there were a pair of Scotties; now this guy remains, alone. He’s awfully glad to walk a ways with a visitor to the garden.

But it’s cold and muddy January; this is not a Mission Oaks day. We walk the sidewalk by the gracious, Spanish-style home on the property instead. This house, with its lovely upper deck (what a great place for morning coffee, I always think) has a Past. It was the abode of a wealthy businessman’s mistress, who lived brazenly there and entertained her paramour while the respectable wife held court across town.

Deer at the Hendleys

Now the Mistress’s House is the gateway to a great gift to the community. You just never know, I figure.

We start down the street past the Hendleys’, but Greta abruptly changes her mind, turns around, and leads me home. We take the sidewalk, the fast way. We encounter no feline or otherwise furry friends.

It’s not a long walk, but it certainly is a story-filled one. We all know how exhausting stories can be to a tired little hound, one who has to protect a house all day and contend at times with an ornery neighborhood cat.

Greta waits patiently for me to treat her with frozen coins of hot dog once we are safely inside, and then she jumps up on to the couch, paddles down the throw, and snuggles up. I get my book and join her. She puts her heads on my leg and snores; I travel vicariously to Scotland.

We’ll find more neighborhood tales on future days, as we deepen our relations with our neighbors, share their memories, hear their adventures.  It’s one of the perks of coming to such a stopping place: here we can send down our roots, several stories deep.

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The cover photo on this site shows one of the ponds from Mission Oaks Gardens…