From the May/June edition of Sweet Tea
A recent trip down Memory Lane (my article from April's online edition of Sweet Tea) took me through the halls of Statham Elementary, and into the classroom of my beloved first and second grade teacher, Miss Lance, and the sweet memory of her fabulous bulletin boards. One of my favorites had for its caption “April Showers Bring May Flowers”. I’ve always loved flowers. From a very young age, I learned to spot the bright yellow splashes of early spring daffodils, and they quickly became my favorite. My daddy called them Jonquils. There was an old homestead across the street from my grandpappy’s house, where the daffodils had multiplied over the years until a blanket of yellow sweetness covered the ground. The house had crumbled over the passage of time, and the only thing remaining on the property was a small bell tower… and the sea of daffodils. We always walked over and picked a huge bunch to take home for our dinner table. One year, my daddy decided it would be okay to dig up a few clumps to take home. “Thin them out”, as it were. He transplanted a few of the bulbs onto the bank of the little gully at home, and in a few years we had our own little patch of daffodils. Each spring my brother and I would pick a handful of flowers, and proudly present them to our mom. And as all good moms throughout history have done, she would give us hugs and tell us they were the most beautiful flowers she had ever seen (even though we had just given her a handful a day or so before), and would make a big deal out of putting them in a Mason jar, where they would live a few days before wilting. Then we’d do it all over again. Those daffodils grew on the gully bank for many years. I was sad to notice this year that they are gone. How long ago did they stop blooming? Was I just too busy to notice? What joy they brought to our lives with their pretty yellow faces smiling in the sun, and oh the fragrance!! I remember burying my nose deep inside the cup and smelling the sweetness. I always thought they smelled good enough to eat! With the mild winter and early spring this year, it seems that our “May flowers” are spent already, and we are left to enjoy the early-blooming azaleas and roses.
Though I’m not blessed with a particularly green thumb, plants and flowers were a large part of my life when I was growing up on Broad Street. My parents and grandparents owned D & W Greenhouses. You may remember the metal signs on each end of Mulberry that read Plants And Flowers For Sale. The greenhouses (still on my parents’ property) sat between their two houses, and it was a family business in every sense of the word. The first greenhouse, now the smallest of workshops on the property, was originally made from recycled windows. Glass windows. It was the coolest little place to be. Except once during a hailstorm. That was a mess! The house was ruined, as well as many of the tender plants growing inside. Undaunted, my dad rebuilt the house, and this became the seed and potting house, where the seeds were planted and nurtured, and later transplanted into individual cups made of peat moss. My brother and I spent countless hours watching our parents carefully extract the seedlings for transplant. We would rummage through the discarded ones deemed too spindly, and would pack them into Dixie cups using sand from our sand pile. The “good dirt” was far too valuable for us to waste, but we were determined to have our own Plants And Flowers For Sale. Needless to say, by day’s end, our little spindly seedlings were wilted in the sand, and once again thrown into the compost pile.
When it was time to plant the garden, neighbors from all over town, and some from out of town, would come to our greenhouses for their plants. And mostly they came at dinner time. During the spring months we rarely were able to sit down for dinner without a customer pulling into the drive. But after all… we had the best-looking plants around! Tomatoes and peppers of many varieties were probably our best sellers, and the ones I remember most. Big Boys and Better Boys were favorites. Seems like I remember the peppers and the “regular” tomatoes selling for a nickel apiece, while the Big Boys might have been a dime.
Even as a kid, I learned that beautiful plants and flowers require a lot of work. I remember every year my parents and grandparents would make the trek to South Carolina to Parks Seed Company, after poring over catalogues all winter. After working all day, they would stay up late into the night planting the seeds. Such anticipation! Though the houses were heated, my folks dreaded a cold snap after planting, because keeping the poorly-insulated houses warm enough to keep the plants safe was expensive. Then there was the year of the hailstorm. And the watering. My goodness. Who knew that you had to water those silly plants so often? At times, I was called upon to water the plants. I loved the smell of the greenhouse, with its sawdust floors, and liked to twirl and swirl the water hose/sprinkler in fancy patterns in the air, then listen for the pattering sound when it landed on the leaves, so it wasn’t such a bad gig. I wasn’t fooling the grownups, though. After just a few minutes, I’d come back into the house, then be marched right back outside to finish the job. I never did have quite the patience required to slowly water the growing plants, lingering over each one long enough to saturate the soil.
We had flowering plants as well. This is probably mostly attributable to Mama Nay, who loved her flowers! I don’t remember what all varieties we had, but I do remember the bold, red geraniums, the pink and white begonias, and the many different kinds of coleus. These were available for purchase as individual plants, or in hanging baskets. The Saturday before Mother’s Day was always a busy day for us. Dads would bring their kids, who faithfully counted out their dimes and quarters, to purchase a beautiful basket for Mom, or perhaps a flat of flowers for her to plant in her garden. Even all these years later, I still enjoy giving my mom a hanging basket for Mother’s Day. It just kinda seems like the thing to do, ya know?
Nowadays the small greenhouse is used for storage, and in the larger one, you’ll find my dad outside puttering around with the car that he built, or fixing things, building something, or just keeping busy. There’s a lot of history in those buildings, and a lot of happy memories. These days, he has a small potting shed out behind the smaller greenhouse, where he starts the seedlings for his own personal use.
Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, I remember those beautiful hanging baskets, and think of my precious grandmother lovingly tending the flowers. I’m so thankful to still have my mom, and so thankful to BE a mom (and a Greemaw). If you’re still fortunate enough to have your mom, remember this: While Mother’s Day is a great day to buy her flowers, you don’t have to wait for a special occasion. She’d love to hear from you today. I know this to be true, because my day is not complete without calling my mom, and without talking to my daughter. So what are you waiting for? Call your mama today!