The house in which I grew up was small and Spartan. My mama seems in my mind to be perpetually standing at the sink washing dishes and looking out the window at a little patch of the world she loved and from which she never strayed far or for long. There was no running hot water in the kitchen, and Mama always kept a kettle on the stove to heat water for washing dishes. The immediate view out the kitchen window was the crepe myrtle just across the driveway, surrounded by one of the poorest scraps of soil on the property, so when one of the tulips Mama had planted there actually came up and bloomed, it gave her a simple yet profound private joy of which her three year old son (that would be me) was utterly unaware.
Playing in the yard early one afternoon, I noticed the flower. Knowing how Mama seemed to enjoy flowers, I thought she would love to have this one in the house, so…I picked it. Mama must have been at her post staring out the window, because she met me at the door as I rushed in to present the gift. I couldn’t wait to see how happy Mama would be, so I was completely unprepared when she began scolding me for picking her flower. When I started sobbing hysterically, Mama was immediately repentant and took me in her arms trying to console me and apologizing for scolding me, because she realized I was only trying to make her happy. But the episode left a shadow on my early childhood that led to an event which my daddy enjoyed telling with a chuckle for years.
I was riding in the car with Daddy down a country road. In those days seatbelts and child restraints were unknown, and I always traveled standing in the center of the front bench seat with my arms spread across the back of the seat for balance. We came to a field that seemed literally to explode in color with wildflowers. Daddy pulled the car over and started to get out. He said, “Let’s get your mama a bunch of flowers.” With a serious look, I shook my head and said, “No, Daddy. Mama don’t like flowers.”
He couldn’t coax me out of the car, so he climbed back in and we went home. He told Mama about the flowers and what I’d said, and she explained about the tulip. It was something Mama always regretted. I remember once when we were sitting around the table at Mama’s house sharing this story with my children, Mama laughed, but she came over and kissed me lightly on the back of the neck, hugged me and said, “He just wanted to give his mama a flower, and I should’ve just taken it.”
In my teens, I fell in love with growing things – flowers and plants of every kind. I started a compost pile and took cuttings, seeds, and bulbs from all my elderly aunts whose houses lined the street across the field from our house. Eventually I worked some good topsoil and compost into that sorry patch of earth across from Mama’s kitchen window and planted cannas which had been struggling to grow in another part of the yard. They performed magnificently, reaching seven feet in height and blooming profusely. I told mama I had finally made up for picking her tulip. She just laughed and hugged me and said she loved looking out that window more than ever. I was wrong, Daddy – Mama really did like flowers.