I’ve just spent the last hour or so ‘deadheading’ gardenias. It’s a rather brutal term for removing the blossoms that have already come, had their day, and are now shriveling into brownness. Some fall off at a breath. Some hold on tight to the very last minute, requiring a gentle tug – or a hard yank – to pull them away. But this removal is necessary, I’m told, so that new creamy white, uniquely fragrant blossoms will keep coming through the summer months.
I carried gardenias in my wedding. Mostly, I think, because my mother carried them in hers. I can still see hers in all their 1950 black and white wedding photo glory. Carrying them was my way of having her at my wedding. Those, along with the delicate lacy web of an embroidered hanky, which was often my gift of choice to her on long ago Mother’s Days. Always all white. Never, ever brightly colored flowers, for those, you see spoke of lunchroom cafeteria ladies and waitresses in diners.
In what became Mother’s last days in the hospital, one of my oldest and dearest friends asked what on earth she could do or get for her. ‘Gardenias,’ my mother said. ‘If Peggy could find me some gardenias.’ And in the midst of July’s heat, somehow my old friend miraculously located a florist with gardenias, which arrived at the hospital, fresh gorgeous lush blossoms with their shiny black-green leaves, floating gently in a round bowl. “Let me smell them,” Mother said. And I held the bowl gently under her nose.
What memories was she breathing in? Her long past wedding day? I’ll never really know, but I like to imagine that they were her happiest of memories. High school dances with ribbons of corsages. Some long remembered front porch bordered by bushes overflowing with blossoms, heady with that rich, almost overpowering fragrance. And yes, her own wedding day. Happier times, younger days. Long before four children, divorce, and cancer.
I hope that at that last, my Mother’s happier memories flooded her mind, with the darker times receding to let the light take their place. Despite all the tragedies, the sadnesses, the unmet dreams, I think my mother would have told you she died a happy woman. No, her life wasn’t a bed of roses, or even a bowl of gardenias. Luxury wasn’t her lot. But she always said her children, her friends, her experiences were worth everything to her.
So as I head back out into the yard to finish my job on this holiday Monday, my thoughts remember her, and all those who’ve left my life. Some falling gently; others being yanked away before their time. And knowing that as each new day unfolds, there are always more blossoms to come.