Red and White Carnations

Red and White Carnations

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

Red and White Carnations

This was the first Mother’s Day since Grandmother passed away. I dreaded going to church and seeing families sit together with their moms. I hated being in church alone, and especially today I hated admitting to myself and others that my mother left and my parents were divorced. I never talked much about it, but I realized everyone in the church knew more about it than I did.

“Maybe I should have stayed home,” I said to myself as I walked up the church steps.

“Good morning, and happy Mother’s Day,” a greeter said to several churchgoers in the narthex. “Please take a red carnation if your mother is living and a white one if she has passed on.”

I must have stood in front of the large basket of flowers for several minutes. I couldn’t decide which one to take.

My real mother is alive, but dead to me. I reasoned. She left when I was two years old, and I’ve only seen her twice in all of my sixteen years.

The first time she showed up was two years ago. It was my brother’s high school graduation. A teacher came to me and said, “Barbara, this is your mother.”

“My mother!” I snapped. “What is she doing here?” Behind my teacher stood a brown-haired, short lady with a warm smile.

“Hi, Barbara. You’ve turned out to be quite a young lady,” she said.

“Hello,” I managed to respond. She looked at me and waited for me to say something else. I didn’t know what to say or do. The seconds seemed like hours. I just stood there and looked at her. Do I look like her? I wondered. One of my classmates rescued me from the awkward moment by asking me on the stage to have our pictures taken. I excused myself and made sure I got lost in the crowd.

The second and last time I saw her was at Grandmother’s funeral. She tried to talk to me then, but I just looked down. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone.

I have no memories of anything my mother and I did together. To call her “Mother” seemed strange because Grandmother Benedict took care of me, went shopping with me and saw to it that my homework got done.

“I really should take a white carnation,” I rationalized. Grandmother was the real mother to me and she was gone. She was there when I needed to talk. She taught me the art of homemaking. She instructed me in cooking and baking the Hungarian way.

I have fond memories of Grandmother sitting by her quilting frame and singing hymns in her native tongue. I would sit and listen to stories of how she immigrated to America and how God kept her safe, providing for her needs. She always said, “Use what God gives you wisely. If you pray for your daily bread, then don’t waste it.”

Looking back, I knew her faith and the time I spent with her passed on influences that were like the quilts she made. There were many fragmented pieces that, when sewn together, formed a complete pattern. The dominant pieces were love, joined by threads of laughter and tears.

I pulled a white carnation from the basket and took a seat in the back pew. The organist began the prelude and quietness settled over the congregation. I sat clutching the white carnation while my heart held tightly to the past. Grief surfaced again, and I saw nothing promising in my future. Most of the people around me knew that my real mother was alive. Would they understand why I took a white carnation? Does God understand?

The choir began to take their seats. The organist played softly. I raised my eyes and focused on the large wooden cross behind the choir loft.

Oh, Jesus, you do understand, don’t you? You were hurt. You were rejected by those you loved. Yet you chose to forgive them. Help me to do the same with my mother.

The organist continued to play as the pastor took his seat behind the pulpit. I looked back in the narthex and noticed the basket of flowers. I quickly, but quietly, walked back to the flower arrangement to put the white carnation back. I wanted to prove to God and myself that I was willing to deal with the past and the future.

All of the red carnations were taken, but my eye caught a glimpse of one single red and white carnation lying on the table. It probably had been taken out of the basket because it was neither all red nor all white.

God does understand my feelings, I thought. The florist didn’t make a mistake. This carnation is just right for me on this Mother’s Day.

I took the red and white carnation back to my seat, thanking God that I would forgive the mother who was alive, and love forever the grand”mother” who would always be alive in me spiritually.

Barbara Hibschman

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