Mrs. Bumgardner, a neighbor who farmed the land that now lies below the waters of Lake Norman, gave me some irises. They now are in full bloom. The deep purple, bright yellow, and mixed white with blazes of purple, grace the side gate to our back garden. The Ligustrum across the road prepares for its burst of small, white blooms that will blanket all the surrounding air with its sweet fragrance. Nature is moving, and her speed surprises: For example, all the white flowers of the dogwoods are gone, but their seeds form for new life, and yesterday morning, with my baby sister by her side, my mother died a just death, like the spent flowers of the dogwoods, one of her favorite trees.
Now, amidst this season of new growth, my siblings and I prepare for a right service that honors our mother’s long life. She was three months beyond one hundred and suffered dementia. The body that my four sisters prepared for the funeral home to take away from her beloved mill house was a shell of our mother, but they polished her nails, washed her spent body, and dressed her in a favorite night gown. As my four sisters have done for all these years, they cared for our mother in every way. They made sure she left 312, her home for over fifty years, as she would have wanted. So, today and for the next few days we pause to discuss “arrangements” before the front, green door is locked the Monday after Mothers’ Day, 2019.
One of the many joys I derive from gardening are the lessons (metaphors?) that nature offers for the taking. For instance, the Ligustrum bloom is coming and one should pause long enough to savor its fragrance because the bloom, while rich, is brief. However, the hedge does not consider what we do; in fact, the large hedge is indifferent to us, but in its indifference, we are offered a time to stop to wonder and appreciate its deep, rich, green leaves cradling the small, white blooms that cover the air like a heirloom quilt. Not the irises beside the gate to the back garden. They send out no fragrance, but the flavor of their powerful colors that seem to take too long suddenly explode like a firework into a burst of color that lights up life. And if one pauses to notice, he or she will learn a lesson.
My siblings and I are now paused– not to celebrate nature’s new season, but to arrange for our mother’s leaving it. Our lives, especially those of my sisters who have taken weekly turns to care for mother, are now different. The blooming of the irises and Ligustrum mark the time of death of the woman who never spoke the word “feminist,” while working in a cotton mill under the glares of men who perhaps saw her, a divorced woman, as an easy mark. She lived and worked in a male-controlled environment, but she never brought one of them home with her in order to gain an edge or influence. She ate chicken necks and backs so that her six children could enjoy the better meat. She suffered abuse from her husband, the man she never stopped loving. Like nature, she taught us subtle lessons, and if the need called for it, she would give a direct lesson by a strong voice or hand. She was known to tell a joke, dance the Charleston, and runners feared her presence as the catcher for her softball team.
All of that has ended now, and unlike the irises and Ligustrum, she will not appear next May ready for her time of renewed life. Now we pause to plan for her physical exit, but that is as it is because unlike the plants, she is not with us for just a short season but ever. Her life as an example for living and her deep-faith lessons , like the spring earth, is full of nourishment. She blooms forever in us: her six little children.