We have a way of finding beauty, even if it runs from us. There is a radar in our souls that seeks it out–the haunting song, a painting that will not let us go,a novel that changes our lives forever. We travel miles to view an ocean sunset, then we go in the opposite direction to see the leaves blaze in fall. We are refreshed and renewed. After these trysts we can go back to our 9 to 5’s, at least for a while.
My mother found her beauty in flowers. Year after year she begged and cajoled trees and shrubs, annuals and perennials,native and exotics to live in her yard. Sweat pouring down her face, strong arms gripping her hoe, in a frenzy of activity, she chanted to herself and to anyone else who would listen, ” I’ve got to have a few flowers, if I can just have a few flowers, I can make it.” She propped up flagging Dahlias,carried buckets of sand from a pit near our home,all the while praying over stunted evergreens. She dug beds for Iris and Tulips, fortifying the land with river stone. After reading her bible,The Progressive Farmer,she scattered Petunia and Marigold seed. She whispered to me,conspiratorially,that these flowers tolerated heat well. Cold rain and late springs ruined her ornamental plums, undaunted she planted again. She refused to be defeated by such a small glitch in her quest for beauty. Between working in her vegetable garden and picking cotton, my mother worked constantly in her yard.
One hot summer night, after the dew had fallen and the stifling air had cooled enough so that we could move inside, we watched a television special on Appalachia. The rutted out coal fields, the weathered silver houses standing abjectly, held my mother’s attention. She must have been surprised and maybe just a little comforted that there were people poorer than she. The commentator masterfully showcased a poor Appalachian family, ending the frame with a shot of a barren desolate yard. The woman of the house had given up all hopes of flower’s, he said,for none would grow in this wasted soil. My mother turned her face from us and lowered her head. “I been there, she said. “I been right there where that woman is.”
I knew it was true. My mother had very few options. Poor,uneducated, a woman in a man’s world, she had little choice but to survive. She tried working in a factory. She couldn’t take it. She had no self confidence and the fine motor skills that the sewing required, she did not possess. So she went back to the farm and worked like a man. She fed her children, and went to church, and when she had a spare moment, she plowed beauty out of a sterile protesting earth. She once told me that she tried to plant lilacs in our yard. ” They wouldn’t grow”, she said. They do better up North. They are not made for down here.” Years later I thought of the phrase “Bloom where you are planted.” My mother didn’t always bloom, where she was planted, but she stayed, and she dug in her roots like kudzu. My mother defied poverty and depression, want and disappointment to define her own beauty.
Sometimes now,in my home in the West, I look at the flowers that are so different from flowers in the South. Purple Salvia, Coral Belles, Devil’s Nettles, all bloom in lovely profusion. It requires a great deal of care to make them thrive in the high desert. But then,I see a woman, trowel in hand, water hose hoisted above her head, and I think of my mother, and I hear her say, “If I can just have a few flowers….” Beauty we will find, wherever we live.