“Overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.” – Richard Bach, in Jonathon Livingston Seagull
I wanted to send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. The house we grew up in was surrounded by flowers; big beds of brightly colored zinnias, snapdragons that stretched to the sky and delicate, orb shaped peonies. My father’s vegetable garden spread horizontally across the far back of the yard, tucked behind the fruit trees and the big maple that held my brothers’ tree fort, but mother’s flower gardens took center stage, surrounding our two story stucco house like a brilliantly tinted moat. Along the driveway, a rock garden packed with pink rockrose and white dianthus welcomed visitors to backyard barbeques, surprise birthday parties and the annual bocce tournament. A large purple wisteria, a plant that always attracted big yellow and black bumblebees, arched lovingly over the door to the basement, the scent wafting throughout the yard. As a child I used to run quickly past it, fearful that the bees would attack me, turning their attention away from pollen collecting and towards the small brown haired ten year old in the floral one piece swim suit as she descended the stairs to the basement.
I wanted to send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. In the weeks before my wedding, my mother and I sat in the floral shop looking through books of flowers, whole volumes of white upon white, like a pile of tissues or cotton balls or marshmallows that have melted in the summer sun. I wanted color. I gravitated to the bright blue bachelor buttons and flashy pink rubrum lilies. “I had stephanotis,” my mother said, pointing at the small, simple flowers with an intoxicating scent. She looked at me wistfully, thinking back to that summer day in 1958 when she’d married my father in the old neighborhood church. She’d worn a simple white, floor length dress and my father a morning suit with tails, a sprig of stephanotis pinned to his lapel. In the end I chose them all, the lilies, the bachelor buttons and Mom’s stephanotis.
I wanted to send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. We bought our first house on Dana Street with a loan from Mom and Dad, a Spanish style stucco house with a pest report that would have scared most smart first time home buyers. It was a fixer upper to be sure, but the sweet brick portico that wrapped around the front door captured me and the interior arches that welcomed you from room to room brought back memories of a European vacation we had taken as children. In advance of my parent's first visit, I planted iris and hydrangea and a big purple wisteria in the back and filled the portico with clay pots of snow white impatiens and hot pink geranium.
I wanted to send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. When my parents moved to the split-level ranch house in Montville, my mother lined the sides of the wooden deck with brightly planted boxes. The front yard was engulfed with a canopy of trees, making it nearly impossible for anything to grow, but the back yard was different. Sun streamed through the canopy and it wasn’t long before my father, her dutiful assistant, was out digging in the rich soil, creating flowerbeds to hold her cutting garden, and lining the house with rhododendrons.
Perhaps it was growing up in Brooklyn. The three-story brownstone on Maple Street didn’t have much room for a garden. As a child I heard stories about the maple lined streets of the neighborhood just a stones throw away from Ebbets Field. When my parents married and moved to their first home, they chose a place in the country, a place where they could plant vegetables and flowers and start a family.
I wanted to send my mother flowers for Mother’s Day. The big yellow house where she lives now has a garden in the back. On Sunday, when I visited her last, we sat inside, behind the locked doors of the dementia unit. In the large sitting room, a television crime show played in the background although no one was watching. We sat in the corner, my brother and I, in a pair of overstuffed chairs upholstered in a bright orange print, and centered my mother’s wheelchair between the two of us. Behind us, a vase of artificial flowers sat on the sideboard. In the corner, a coat rack held old uniforms; a blue sailor’s suit, a set of army fatigues and a white nurse’s smock. It has been years since she recognized us, since we could chat about the house on Preston Drive, the vacations we’d taken as kids or the smell of the bright yellow forsythia that welcomed us each spring. We held her hand and stroked her long, slender fingers. We’d brought a book of stories, columns she’d written for the local newspaper when we were growing up. We read a few, and searched her eyes for recognition. “This one’s about Jonathon Livingston Seagull,” my brother said. “Would you like me to read it to you?” My mother had loved that story about a bird who learns about life and flight. She’d read it many times, quoting Jonathon’s wisdom more times than I could remember. I searched her vacant brown eyes. Would she remember? After my brother finished reading, I reached for the scrapbook and flipped through the big, yellowed pages. The columns chronicled many things; our childhood, touch points of a life well lived and the thoughts of a young, vibrant woman who planted flowers everywhere she went.