I spent six weeks one summer in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
My cherished great aunt had recently become a widow. My mother thought it would be a good idea for her to have some company in the rambling house that now was empty save for her. She was all alone in the great house she’d shared with my uncle. I couldn’t imagine my sweet great aunt sad; she was always the sunny light of any family gathering, bustling in the kitchen making food and making sure everything ran smoothly. But she was. My uncle had meant everything to her.
Everyone was worried about her, so when my mother asked if I’d be willing to go spend a month with her, it didn’t take too much convincing. I loved the idea of spending time with her and trying to give back something to the woman who had given so much to my mother and our family.
She took me for walks, she took me to movies, she taught me how to make pie crust, she showed me the beautiful plants in her garden. I helped her clean the house and get it ready to be put on the market to sell. I heard as she made her plans; she would leave Michigan and spend part of the year with her daughter in Virginia and part of the year with her son in California.
Before we left Grand Rapids, my mother and I went to work trying to preserve something of all of the great times we’d had there. My aunt told us to take anything we wanted out of her garden. Her garden had always fascinated me as a child. It was a perennial garden, and like magic every spring, the same plants would rise up after the cold Michigan winter to come alive again. The symbolism was unmistakable. And so one hot July day, my mother assembled old pickle buckets and plastic garden pots and dug up delicate Japanese irises; sunny, summery primroses; poignantly named forget-me-nots; and my mother's favorite, big, bodacious peonies.
When we returned home to our tiny townhouse with the small plot out back and the small area out front that we could plant in, my mother and I quickly acclimated my aunt’s plants to their new home. It was a bittersweet sense of accomplishment that we felt as we placed the last bit of earth back into the ground.
My mother tended those plants for eight years before she passed away, and every spring she loved watching the big, fat buds on those peonies burst into color. I tended them for another six years more before I moved. My girlfriend Barb tended them for four more before she finally brought some of the plants to me for my own garden in Ohio. And when I moved from there, one of the first things I did was put my peony plants safely in a plastic pot to drive in the car with me from the Midwest to Connecticut.
Every spring, as it emerges from the ground and the tight buds grow full and round, I think of my mother, and my great aunt, and that summer so long ago when I had no idea what life would bring all of us. And I sit in wonder at how the blooms look just as beautiful, just as full, just as miraculous as they did twenty five years ago.
You can always bloom, no matter where you're planted, no matter what you've been through, no matter how long the road was that brought you there.
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