Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mae Flowers

Mae Flowers

Her life did not turn out to be the one she had imagined. As a young girl, dreaming and drowsy in the tranquil shade of the trees that sheltered her father’s house, she had pictured something quite different, I’m sure. Early photographs of her show a beautiful young woman with vibrant red hair, a solemn smile, and the alabaster skin that was prized in the early 1900’s.

Childhood is never really easy, except perhaps when recalled with the hindsight of weary adult eyes. As a farm girl, there was precious little time for the pursuit of childish pleasures. Her father and her five brothers shouldered the burden of working in the fields, while she and her sister worked alongside their mother at the endless, grinding work to maintain a home for the family.

When she spoke of those times, though, it was with a wistful smile that belied the hardships endured in her childhood. The memories of backbreaking chores, tempered by the passage of time, assumed a “Little House on the Prairie” quality. When remembering her parents and siblings, genuine admiration and deep love generated a distinctive warmth in her voice and her eyes.

That warmth was hard to come by when she spoke of her adult life. She married young, to a handsome, charming man who would later become an abusive alcoholic. I don’t know what their early years of marriage were like, because as a child I lacked the empathy to ask, and I doubt she would have told me anyway. There was, at times, an almost palpable sadness about her, but if anyone remarked on it she would quickly change the subject. She was from a different generation, much too reserved to share her innermost feelings, and shocked by what people revealed on Phil Donahue’s show. In her world, a person simply didn’t talk about those things, much less broadcast them on national television. I have to smile when I imagine what her reaction would be to Dr. Phil and Jerry Springer.

Her children were her pride and joy; two fine, hardworking sons and a daughter who became a nurse. She loved them with the unconditional, infinite tenderness of a mother, and they adored her in return. In the unforgiving atmosphere created by her husband’s drinking, she nurtured them into flourishing adults, encouraging them to enjoy the time spent with their father when he was sober, and shielding them from the fallout when he was not.

Once the children had left home, her flowers became surrogate recipients of her loving care. There was precious little spare time allowed to her, yet she managed to fill the yard with beauty. Dazzling yellow forsythia filled one corner of the yard, contrasting with the vivid shades of purple iris stretched along the fence. Fragile pink blossoms nestled among the delicate tendrils of sweet pea winding through the front gate, releasing their subtle scent at the slightest brush. Overblown peonies bloomed extravagantly from beside the stone walkway. Lush petunias overflowed a window box, enticing tiny hummingbirds that delighted her as they darted from blossom to blossom. A glossy magnolia tree grew in stately splendor, providing fragrant shade. She even managed to coax high-maintenance roses into glorious bloom.

The lilac bush, however, was the crowning glory of her yard. It was massive, the perfumed lavender clusters permeating the yard with their heavenly aroma. She often joked, although never within earshot of her husband, that beer made it grow better. On Saturday nights, he would bring home enough beer to last through Sunday. After he had fallen asleep, she would pour most of it under the spreading branches of the lilac bush. Sunday morning, when he woke from his binge, she would tell him with a perfectly straight face that he had drank it all.

No, her life did not turn out to be the one she had imagined. She made the most of it, though, relying on God to sustain her when her own innate strength could not. She worked hard, created a loving home for her family, and taught her children and grandchildren solid values that served them well. She was a smart, funny, loving little woman. I miss you, Granny. Happy Mother’s Day.


  1. Tammy, this is beautiful - I had tears in my eyes reading it! I could see your Granny's flowers all in bloom, and even smell the lilac wafting thru the air.

    And you posted this without any help - congrats!


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