From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Emma’s Bouquets

It was a hot June day when my mother and I crossed the Texas border and made our way to Minden, west of Shreveport, Louisiana. Although it wasn’t far to the old George family farm, where my great-grandparents had homesteaded 100 years earlier, I had never been there before.

As we drew closer to the family homestead, through softly rolling hills of longleaf pine, sweet gum and red oak, I thought about what connects us with earlier generations of our family. Is it just a matter of eye color, height or blood type? Or are there other ties that bind us? If my great-grandmother Emma could find her way into the present, would she discover something familiar in my generation?

When my mom and I turned into the George property, we saw before us a real Southern farmhouse—mostly porch with a house attached. Although it was just a simple farmhouse, its front windows were graced with ornately carved dental moldings, and the steps from the porch—flanked by large brick pillars with granite plinths—were a palatial ten feet wide. The house bore a startling resemblance to the houses my brother and sister and I owned, even though none of us had ever seen this place. When I’d bought my old farmhouse in North Carolina, for example, the first thing I’d done was to add a replica of this porch. Similarly, my brother’s and sister’s Louisiana homes, although newly designed by architects, bore an uncanny resemblance to the old George homestead.

As my mother and I strolled through the garden, where roses, day lilies, iris, vitex and phlox still bloomed, my mother remarked, “Your great-grandmother Emma loved flowers.” Wanting to keep a part of this, my heritage, I knelt down and dug out one of the iris pips.

Because I also wanted to preserve something from the inside of the house, before it crumbled and was lost to time, we gingerly explored the interior, noting the twenty-inch-wide virgin pine boards, the hand-hewn beams and the handmade clay bricks, each marked with a G. Then, in the bedroom, I discovered Emma’s 1890s wallpaper— a floral motif, naturally, with a repeating pattern of large bouquets of ivory and pink roses. It was peeling off the pine boards, but still lovely after all this time, just like my great-grandmother’s garden. I knew this was the memento I wanted to take with me. With the tiny penknife on my key ring, I carved off two square-foot pieces, one for me and one for my younger sister, Cindy.

Before we headed for home, Mom and I stood on that familiar front porch for a moment of silent leave-taking. At that instant, I felt very connected to my ancestors, as though there were invisible wires running between us, anchoring each successive generation to the earlier ones. However, on the drive home, I began to wonder if I weren’t making too much of this family ties thing. Perhaps a penchant for wide porches was just a coincidence.

The next day, eager to share the story of this trip with Cindy, I dropped by her house. I found her in the kitchen, happily perusing the materials she had bought on a recent trip to England in order to redecorate her home. We sat at the table together, and I told her about our great-grandparents’ farmhouse with its verandah, floor-to-ceiling windows and high ceilings that had somehow found their way into the design of the homes of the Georges’ great-grandchildren. We laughed about my muddying my dress in order to dig out a flower pip, and then I produced the little square of wallpaper I’d brought for her as a keepsake.

She appeared stunned, sitting stone-still and dead-quiet. I thought I had, in my big-sister way, offended her with my story. Then she reached into the box of her renovation materials and pulled out the rolls of newly purchased wallpaper from England. The design was exactly the same—the ivory-pink sprays and bouquets of roses were Emma’s.

Emma’s bouquets had found their way into the present.

Pamela George

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