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May 12, 2012

Perennial Mother

Benjamin Busch is the author of DUST TO DUST, a memoir, available now from Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins. In this post, he talks about how he remembers his mother.

My mother always comes back to me as flowers.

When I was about 9 years old my mother asked if I would like to come with her on a “rescue mission.”  All I needed to hear was “mission.”  She had been stalking a wild bed of tiger lilies for a few years on an empty stretch of rural road near our home in central New York and she had finally raised the courage to take some of them for her garden.  She was so honest in her life and by example that this was the only time I witnessed her seeming almost criminal, taking a portion from a patch of long forgotten flowers growing on the edge of a country road.

It had all the intrigue of a bank robbery as we put a plastic bag and a pointed shovel in the back of our large station wagon and rumbled out of town toward the hills.  The road was thin and passed through maple forests, pastures, and hay fields.  It was early spring, Mother’s Day, and the trees were thickening at their tips with leaf buds.  The woods opened and there were overgrown clearings on either side.  My mother suddenly said, “There they are,” almost in a hush as if the plants might run at being sighted.  We slowly drove past them as if there was a guard, then returned from the other direction, stopping in front of them.

We got out and stood looking at the bright green shoots that were already splitting into blades.  Beyond them lay the cellar of a farmhouse between two ancient maple trees, the fieldstone walls still holding their place in the ground.  It was likely the flowers were planted by the family that had once lived there and though the people had disappeared, the flowers thrived in their memory, symbolic of home.  My mother picked a spot and I cut a careful circle out of their mass, serving it to her like a cake on the shovel.  She insisted I fill the hole with dirt so that the wound I had carved in them would heal with new growth.  We drove home with our prize in a bag on my lap.

She placed the clump of roots in her own soil, pressed the earth down around them with her fingers.  I watched her seal them into the earth.  She watered them all summer as they sent up long limp leaves.  Only one flower bloomed.  In fall they bent down and dried up.  It seemed to me that they had not survived their transplant.  However, the next spring they came back, already a larger circle than the one she had planted.  They flowered heavily and when we moved to a farmhouse farther from town a few years later, my mother took a shovelful of them with her.  They are now a large patch in both places.

When I moved to Michigan with my family, I carried some of her lily bed there for our garden, descendants of the same flowers my mother had “rescued” 29 years before.   I needed the lilies because my mother had passed away that year in winter, before the spring bulbs had come up.  She returns to me every year in perennial blooms, enduring and beautiful.  She will be with me this way for the rest of my life.  I have planted lilies and daffodils with my daughter and though I am a father, I hope she remembers me in flowers the way I think of my mother every spring on Mother’s Day.