48. Perennial

48. Perennial

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

Perennial

In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me
an invincible summer.

~Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays

The garden in front of my grandparents’ red brick house is where the jonquils, tulips, crocuses and irises bloomed. Other bulbs remained beneath, still hidden in the darkness of the moist soil. As the days grew longer and stretched into summer, the deep pink star-gazers and trumpet-shaped lilies of pure white would also spring forth from the loamy earth and leaf debris.

In the springtime, a dear old friend who had known my grandparents for decades longer than I had even been alive came over to help with removing the storm windows. The air was warm, and any threats of wintry weather seemed to have passed.

After the task had been completed, he and my grandmother walked around to the front of the house where my mother and three aunts had spent their childhoods.

There, in the plot beside the front porch, a colorful congregation of flowers waved merrily in the breeze, a statue of St. Francis presiding over the petals.

My grandmother stopped to admire the flowerbed.

“I’ve been noticing these past few weeks,” she said, pausing in contemplation, “and it just seems to me that the flowers are even more beautiful than usual, there just seem to be more colors.”

The friend chuckled quietly. “Well,” he said in response, “that probably has something to do with the extra bulbs Joe planted in secret last fall.”

Joe was my grandfather, and although it was my grandmother who took most of the pride in the beautiful blossoms in front of their house each year, it was he who was the primary tender of the garden.

The friend shook his head, “Leave it to Joe to not tell you something like that.” He continued, “I suppose the flowers speak louder than any words could anyway. And he was never one to make a big fuss over things, nor did he like it when other people would — especially when the fuss was being made over him.”

“Well for heaven’s sakes,” said my grandmother. “But when could he have done it? We were together so much of the time.”

“I reckon all those times he went to working on projects in the garage, he wasn’t necessarily in the garage the whole time. And you did go to your ladies’ meetings at church.”

They both stood looking at the flowers.

“And he wanted it to be a surprise for you this spring.” The man blinked several times in quick succession and cleared his throat, looking around the yard. “Is there anything else I can do for you today, Mary?”

She shook her head gently. “No, you’ve been such a big help already. Thank you so much.”

“Well,” he said brusquely, clearing his throat, “then I must be going now.”

He rolled down his window in his car before pulling out of the driveway. “Mary, you be sure and let me know if there’s anything you need.”

She smiled and waved.

The car disappeared down the street, and my grandmother went to the porch swing. She sat down in a sunbeam, a small solitary figure with gray curls, swaying slowly back and forth. She gazed at the flowers, bathed in the warmth of the sunshine and thoughts of her romantic husband.

As long as she had known him, he was forever giving her thoughtful gifts. They were a duo who had weathered a childhood in the Depression, and later had channeled much of their energy and financial resources into raising four children. Frivolous objects were a foreign concept to them, and the gifts he had given were never flamboyant or expensive. The few pieces of jewelry he had presented to her had been hard-earned after months and months of scrupulous saving.

She treasured the jewelry, but it was perhaps the other gifts that meant even more to her. The purchase prices had been smaller, but she recognized the thought that went into them, which made them so precious.

Throughout their courtship he had given her books that they would read sitting together on park benches. While he was overseas during the war, my grandfather wrote her letters almost daily, and sent photographs and small trinkets when he could. In 1944, he returned safely, and they began their lives together. Although he returned from Europe and they could see one another every day, he still sometimes wrote her love letters.

Even during the busy parenting years of crying babies, potty-training, skinned knees, school plays and proms, he still made time to be romantic, giving small gifts. The gifts and notes continued to appear, through the course of fifty-six years of marriage.

She turned her blue eyes again to the garden, breathing the sweet fragrances. A tear ran down her cheek, and the flowers became a blurred watercolor as her eyes welled with more tears.

He always found a special way to remind her and let her know how much he loved her.

Even now, three months after the cancer had so abruptly taken him, an angel gardener blew her kisses, carried on the scents and colors of the flower petals.

 

~Tinker E. Jacobs
Chicken Soup for the Grandparent’s Soul

More stories from our partners