From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Lavender Roses

“I can’t get these lavender roses to grow,” Papi complained to me one afternoon.

My father had been working all morning cultivating his rose garden, which in the bright light of this warm July day looked almost too lovely to be real.

“Don’t worry about it, José,” my mother advised him. “You already have so many beautiful shades of roses.”

My mother worried about Papi’s constant preoccupation with the perfection of things; my father’s high blood pressure and fifty years of smoking his beloved hand-rolled Cuban tobacco gave her reason to be alarmed.

“I promised your mother lavender roses for her birthday,” he explained to me. “I’ve been promising her for the last five years, but aquí no brota nada . . . nada de nada . . .

My father was not a perfect man, but he was a man de palabra, a man who kept his promises. He had promised my mother lavender roses for her birthday, and Papi had little time left to work. He swore he would grow the lavender roses for my mother if it was the last thing he did.

Papi and Mami had come to this country from San Juan, Puerto Rico, in 1927. When Papi told my mother that he wanted to move to the United States, she put up quite a fight (family legend has it that she smashed all her wedding plates the night before they left Puerto Rico; she hides a smile when she hears this story but denies it and claims that the plates were stolen). But Mami eventually gave in to her husband’s will, as women of her time were raised to do, and she reluctantly said good-bye to her life on the island.

In San Juan, my mother was an avid rose grower, and she was famous for her prized lavender roses, which everybody said were the prettiest in the region. One of the promises my father made to her before they left the island was that she would be able to have a rose garden in the United States. But for many years Papi’s promise went unfulfilled. They spent the first thirty years in their new country in the frigid concrete of New York’s inner city, and only when I got married and moved them to Southern California with me did they get a chance to have a garden. But after ten years of trying to reproduce her rose garden, my mother gave up on the lavender roses. Although all the conditions were right, she just couldn’t get them to bloom. So my father, who had never been the slightest bit interested in gardening—or in roses for that matter, took it upon himself to make them grow. This was the fifth year that he worked in the yard, and even though he didn’t like to admit it, he had come to love weeding, pruning bushes and cultivating the soil around the flowers. I think that working in the garden for my mother was one way that my otherwise cantankerous father could show his love for her.

Sadly, the growing season came and went that year, along with my mother’s birthday, but the roses never bloomed. Months later, on a crisp winter morning, my father got up at his usual hour, brushed his teeth and washed his face. He sat down at the kitchen table, and my mother served him his customary huge bowl of oatmeal. But as he raised the first spoonful to his lips, he turned to me and Mami, and, with a somewhat surprised look on his face, said, “No me siento bien.” And with that brief announcement, “I don’t feel well,” he toppled to the floor.

Mami ran over to his crumpled body, and frantically tried to revive him. But it was no use. He was gone.

Mami spent the next few months grieving and getting her new life in order, sorting through Papi’s things and distributing them among the family, answering sympathy cards, talking to relatives in Puerto Rico and Cuba who called with regularity to ask about her. She put the little house that they had shared for ten years up for sale, and made plans to come to live with us. The house sold rather quickly, and on the day of my mother’s sixtieth birthday, the young couple who had bought the house stopped by to deliver some papers. When Mami answered the door, she was startled to see the young woman holding out a lavender rose. Mami thought it was a birthday present and was touched at the kind gesture of the young woman.

“Thank you so much!” Mami exclaimed. “You must have known it was my birthday!”

“I didn’t know,” answered the young woman. “I just wanted to bring you one of these lovely roses from your garden.”

“From my garden?” Mami asked, with a look of disbelief.

“Yes,” the young woman said, as she stepped aside and gestured toward the rose garden.

My mother looked out the front door and tears filled her eyes. In the middle of her garden bloomed the most spectacular field of lavender roses that she had ever seen.

“Ay, José, bendito . . .” Mami gasped, calling out my father’s name as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

“They must be a birthday present from above,” the young woman said.

My mother just smiled.

Caroline C. Sánchez

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