By Lynn Ingram |
Mister Lincoln is awakening, promising to pluck my heart strings, to make me ponder again the wonders and mysteries of this world. This morning, he’s offering me just the barest sliver of red, peeking demurely out from his green cup of curly-tipped sepals. Yet soon—oh, so very soon—that small tight bud will burst into extravagant velvet bloom and fling its seductive fragrance recklessly about my garden.
I know this is true. In just the same way that I know the sun will rise gloriously up every day at dawn and splay its brilliant beams across the sky, I know that Mister Lincoln will bloom for your birthday, shamelessly claiming center stage in my garden with his fat crimson petals and beguilingly sweet bouquet.
Just exactly the way he showed himself last on mine, in September.
Just exactly the way he did last year, and the year before—blossoming in the spring to celebrate your birthday and then again, in late summer, to celebrate mine.
You were the consummate rose grower, not I. That one rose, Mister Lincoln, perhaps the loveliest and most perfect of the red hybrid tea roses, lives in my garden only because you put him there, with your small vain hope that I might learn what you knew, cultivate beauty the way you did, tend those temperamental ornamentals in return for their matchless gifts of scent and bloom.
I’ve not become a grower of roses as you may have wished, but it does seem that your little hope and nudging bore some fruit—or more accurately, some flower. I am a gardener, as were you, but with, of course, my own peculiar twist, so different from yours. That should bring a smile: Weren’t we always different in so many ways? Why would we have ever imagined that our gardens would be similar? And yet, and yet—there is that fundamental tie, that deep dirt bond that links us. And that tender tie, sprung from hands plunged into dirt and hearts made joyful at every hint of new green life, undoes me some mornings when dew and pregnant buds hold more loveliness than I can stand. Even so, the corners of my mouth turn up into a poignant smile, and I feel your presence there in my garden, approving: “Yes, daughter, well done.”
You will know, now, that I am turning into you, which, of course, I never thought I would (and certainly would have struggled mightily against such a turn, had I a choice in the matter.) And I am laughing and loving it, as you most certainly must be, when friends drop by and I drag them around for the garden tour: “See, this lily here is about to bloom. When it does, you won’t believe the perfume. It’s called Stargazer, and it’s my favorite. You must come back to smell it. And, can you believe this fuschia lived over the winter? I’ve never had one to do that. Such a gift! And so did this bougainvillea! Amazing. And oh, look, here, how the moon vine has finally grown all over the front door, and look at all those buds. You’ll have to come back in the evening when they open. The air smells like heaven when one of them blooms!”
I am the visual echo of your having taken me by the arm to coo over your clematis growing rampantly all over your swing, dripping purple petals like some royal’s amethyst necklace, or so I could gape, jaw dropped in wonder and awe, at your roses that truly were the size of dinner plates, splashed there in a wild palette never found in a florist’s shop.
It was that dirt bond of ours that saved me when you died, although I doubt that I knew that then. All I knew to do then was to plant, to dig holes, to vigorously shovel out sorry sand and load in compost and good soil. All I knew to do was to set in tender roots of azaleas and camellias and pittosporum and euonymous and Indian hawthorne, to bury bulbs of jonquils and tulips and crocus, to plant lilies and hostas and daisies. Into those holes I shoved my pain and my agony and my inability to understand that you were gone. It was not possible for me to dig enough holes for all that I needed to bury, but that impossibility did not stop me from trying.
A turn of life took me from my garden, only to come back, years later, to start to dig in this dirt again, this dirt where you and I had begun to scratch a garden from a blank and barren spot. And so, as I tilled and dug and planted anew, I wept for the absence of you, the longing for you, from deep in my heart, once again.
This time, though, as a gift of the balm that is the passage of time, I celebrated you, too. I listened for your voice. I heard you on the morning breeze and in the song of the wren that nested in the ivy basket. Just as you had done, I gardened myself into a place of solace, where I could find a little rest and ease. I went to ground, to a solid place to gain the footing that I had lost. I dug myself in here, literally dug in my trenches, and I filled them with hosta and lily and crape myrtle and Gerbera daisies and rosemary and your azaleas and camellias. Now, I am taking cuttings of those lovely plants, and I am rooting them, because I know the day will come when I will leave this place again, and this time, it will be for good.
Yet when that leaving time comes, I will take these tender new plants, and you and your love and lessons with me.
And yes, of course, Mister Lincoln will be coming along.
A native Carolinian, Lynn Ingram’s work has appeared in a number of publications including Sasee, The Charlotte Observer, Progressive Farmer, and Lake Wylie Magazine. She is a psychologist in private practice in Wilmington, and she teaches psychology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. When she’s not writing or sorting out the secrets of human nature, she gardens, dances and reads.