Carnations and Love of Flowers

Wild carnationsThe $6 bouquet of fresh carnations draws my attention immediately. The velvety blood red petals are vibrant with life. As I smell the fragrance and touch the softness, I see my Dad’s smile, beaming with joy, coming from the farmer’s market with a small bundle of wild flowers.
Mom loved flowers as a child and her passion grew as she matured into adulthood. Grandma always had a few rose bushes next to the vegetable patch. It was a luxury few farmers could afford – they had to use every sliver of dirt to plant food.
When Mom and Dad lost their house to the social engineering commies who forced them out of their small abode and off the land, there was no place to plant flowers in the tiny grey concrete apartment. She had a couple of pots with geraniums as space permitted. The tiny balcony could have housed a few pots in summer time but we used it to string up a clothes line, hidden from view.
During our courtship in the late seventies, my fiancé at the time used to send me Inter-Flora orders of flowers once a month. The downtown shop delivered with a frown a large bucket of roses or carnations, usually 100 stems. The frown always meant, “How dare I receive such ostentatious capitalist gifts since many people could not afford or find food?” Because Bill paid in dollars and the Romanian currency was so weak, $40 bought a lot of flowers. I shared my happiness every time with all my neighbors in the 15 apartments on our stairwell. It was a visual luxury, ray of sunshine and color in an otherwise drab existence.
When Mom came to the U.S. and moved in with us in the faculty house we rented for three years at a southern university where I taught part time and was a graduate student, she planted a beautiful garden every summer filled with egg plants, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, okra, squash, cantaloupe, and a few rose bushes.
The physical plant superintendent who cared for the university grounds loved her garden! Many people would drive up to admire the bounty. Mom was always outside with her white wide-brimmed hat on and the sleeves rolled up, pulling weeds, fertilizing, picking ripen veggies every day, sharing the extra with our neighbors, waving at the cars passing by who blew their horns in admiration. The garden was her pet, her child. A couple of times, summer school classes in horticulture brought their students to visit Mom’s huge garden. The students were in awe that one woman could produce so much food. It was Mom’s labor of love.
To me Mom’s garden was an expression of freedom, the freedom that was denied to her in the utopia that crushed the human spirit. The egalitarian paradise we fled from had denied her the right and joy to own land and grow vegetables on it to feed her family.
My husband David brings carnations home from the grocery store sometimes. There is always a twinkle in his blue eyes when I eagerly open the cellophane wrap and put the flowers in the maroon crystal vase Mom brought from Romania almost twenty years ago. His attentiveness brings us joy and brightens the room instantly. I am sure Dad approves from Heaven. David is so much like my Dad; he would have loved him, had he had the chance to meet him.
I think I inherited mom’s love of flowers and her green thumb. Since HOA does not allow us to have a garden, I plant as many rose bushes, lilac, and other flowers that I can possibly fit in my yard without being fined by the HOA. The deer, the rabbits, the birds, the bees, the humming birds, many insects and the very destructive Japanese beetle love my flowers too.
© Ileana Johnson

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