Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Today I am grateful for a memory trigger. My mom will turn 90 on Sunday and we are not able to be there. It’s okay because we were just there in summer, but I would like to twitch my nose and show up for just one day. . .without driving 18 hours. . .each way, or the expense.
Over twenty years ago, the exact same day that we were getting on a plane in Pennsylvania to move to Jakarta, Indonesia for three years, my mom was piling some stuff in a U-Haul trailer, loading her white mini poodle, Bijou, into her old Ford and picking up her friend, Arlisle. She was heading west, to her new home in Apache Junction, Arizona.
Talk about brave. My dad had died of a very sudden heart attack three years earlier. My mom, having lived in Arizona for a while as a kid, remembered the climate. She just got sick to death of the Sheboygan winters. That’s what she said, anyway, but I think it was took more than snow to move her so far out of her comfort zone. My dad was a popular guy. Indeed, after he died, a neighbor down the block called right as we arrived from Pennsylvania after getting that horrible call and said, “Where’s Willie? Willie was supposed to wash my windows today.”
You couldn’t go anywhere in Sheboygan with my dad without him not only knowing someone, but knowing where they grew up, where they moved to, where they worked, three generations of their family history and what kind of mischief they had gotten in together as kids. Walk into a bar. Six people, including the bar tender. Go to a restaurant. He’d work the crowd like a celebrity, shaking hands and gabbing with everyone he saw. Go to a dance. My mom would shag him off to dance with other women because she couldn’t keep up. . .unless one was “that old bitch who has been chasing your father for years and still wears her hair like it’s the 40’s!” Then she’d dance.
“Remember this,” he’d say. “If you’re ever out of town or traveling or just feeling like you need to chat with someone, there is one line that always works.” Yeah? What’s that, dad? “Where are you folks from?” he’d ask. And it works. I’ve tested it.
Mom loved living in Arizona and each year, in winter because it was too hot for things to grow in summer, she’d plant amazing flowers in containers all over the place. But behind her mobile home (fancy word for trailer), where her bedroom window was, she planted snap dragons. Those snap dragons grew four feet tall and nearly covered the bottom half of her bedroom windows. When Himself was out watering with her one day, he remarked how gorgeous they were.
“I couldn’t grow a decent snap dragon in Wisconsin and every year I tried because they were Willies favorite flower,” she told him. “They love it in Arizona. Soil and climate must be right.”
A couple of weeks ago we yanked out all of our zinnias. It was time. They had a white fungus and although the birds still liked gnawing on them, they looked awful, nearly covering the bottom of our kitchen windows. So everything had to go.
The other day we noticed a tiny persistent plant poking out of the mulch. At first I figured it was a weed. Nope. A tiny snap dragon sprouted all by itself, right near the sidewalk to our house. I have never planted snap dragons at this house. Ever. “Hey,” Himself said, while schlepping the groceries. “Weren’t snap dragons your dad’s favorite flower?” Himself might forget to turn off the lights and shut the doors, but he remembers the important things.
Two chunky, white flowers, defying the approaching winter, trigger a flood of memories. Where did it come from? Why now? How could it have survived our voracious attack on the garden? Why does anything start growing in the middle of October when soon ice and snow will destroy it? When he caught me taking a picture of it, Himself said, “I knew it! You’re going to write about this. . .because of your dad. . .and your mom’s birthday. I was hoping you would.” Yup. He’s a keeper.
Could an errant snap dragon be a message from my dad, delivered by a grateful bird, reminding me to wish my mom, his wife, a happy birthday from him? I’d like to think so. Happy Birthday, Mom. . .from daddy. A couple of snap dragons said so.