Excerpt from Growing Flowers
Sunday July 31, 2011
I head downstairs and grab a bowl of Apple Jacks, my favorite, as I turn on my computer to see what I missed while I was sleeping when my mom walks in the back door.
“Morning sleepy head,” she laughs.
“What? It is still morning at least,” I respond as I see that it is actually after eleven.
“How late did you stay up last night?”
“I don’t know probably three,” I mumble.
“What did you do that late?” she asks as she pours herself another cup of coffee.
“Look at what everyone, that doesn’t have a curfew, posts about what they are out doing.”
“Oh, sure Lily. I forgot that you are the only one with a curfew.”
“No, just the only college student with a curfew,” I mumble again.
“Come help me in the garden when you finish eating. You used to love helping me in the garden,” she says as she goes out the back door again.
She is right. I did like to help her in the garden when I was little. I can’t remember the last time that I helped her. Now that I am in college and want to spend my free time with friends, I don’t mind how much time she spends tending to each and every tree and flower. I remember when I was young, we spent most weekends together pulling weeds and then going out for ice cream. I never embraced her love for plants and flowers, but it made her so happy when I helped. She would thank me and exclaim that I did such a great job. When I think back on those times, I spent more time staring up at the sky than I did really helping.
As I close my computer and rinse the red ceramic bowl that I painted so many years ago, I head outside.
“What can I do to help?” I ask.
“What a pleasant surprise, Lily. Put some gloves on and just pull some weeds. You know that the flowers can’t flourish if the weeds take their nutrients and water…” she continues as I reach for the gloves.
We work for over an hour, when finally with my back sore and the sweat running down my face, I say, “Well I am going in.”
“Oh thank you so much Lily. You did such a great job. You helped the flowers so much.”
“No problem,” I mutter.
“We should go on a trip before you start this semester,” she blurts out as I am walking away, “to celebrate your twenty-first birthday.”
“Okay. Where?” I say because she never wants to go anywhere. I can’t even remember the last vacation we took together. She really never wants to even leave the house any more.
“I don’t know, maybe Memphis? I have always wanted to see Graceland, and this birthday is a big one.”
I am not sure what surprises me the most. The fact that she wants to go on a vacation, that she has any interest in Graceland or that she wants to celebrate my birthday. I mean we always had a cake and gifts, but we never did anything big. I never heard her talk about Elvis or Memphis ever either, but I try to hold my tongue in case anything I say makes her change her mind.
“Okay….when should we go?” I ask hesitantly.
“Tuesday? We could leave early before traffic. I am not sure how long of a drive it is,” she says without looking up still.
“Okay. I will go look stuff up on the computer, and make sure that I can get off work for a few days?” I ask, afraid that I am imagining this conversation. I remember when I was little, I used to ask repeatedly if we could go somewhere over Winter Break or Spring Break. Since she always said no and wouldn’t even give me a reason, I stopped asking. One time when I asked my Aunt Diane why my mom wouldn’t go anywhere, she looked liked she knew the reason, but then she just said, “I don’t know. That’s just how your mom is.” At times I would go places with Aunt Diane’s family, but my mom looked miserable when I was leaving, that I soon gave excuses why I didn’t want to go. My cousin, Lexi, would beg me to come, but with the way my mom looked when I left, I just couldn’t enjoy myself. She looks the same when I leave for college each fall, but I just can’t stop living for her anymore.
“We can go get ice cream when I am done in my garden, and you can tell me what you have found.”
I look back one more time as I go in the house. She still has her hands in the dirt, but they aren’t moving. I wonder what she is thinking. Will she change her mind? What will it be like traveling with my mom? I grab a pad of paper and turn on my computer. The first thing that I check is to see how far the drive is. It should take us nine hours without stopping. We could fly there but she said “drive” so I don’t want to give her any excuses to cancel. I feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness as I look up Graceland and hotels to ask her about when we go for ice cream. I am trying to narrow the questions for her down to the minimum so that she doesn’t get overwhelmed and change her mind. She is still in the backyard as I turn off my computer and go take a shower.
When I am ready to go, I hear her shower going so I call Lexi really quick.
“Hi Lily. Whatcha doing?”
“My mom and I are going to Memphis Tuesday,” I whisper even though I want to shout, but am afraid my mom will hear me.
“What? I thought you just said that you are going to Memphis.”
“I did Lexi. My mom wants to see Graceland, so we are driving there Tuesday morning.”
“Does my mom know?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. We were out in the garden together, and she just kind of said it.”
“I don’t even know what to say Lily. Cool, I guess?”
“I know. I feel the same way. I am excited, but nervous that she will change her mind. Don’t tell your mom yet. We are going out for ice cream to discuss it. I already looked everything up and planned it all.”
“Good luck Lily.”
“Thanks Lex, I will let you know how it goes later.”
I hear my mom’s hair dryer so I call my boss at work to tell him that I won’t be at the restaurant this week. He says that is fine since I haven’t taken off all summer, and he knows that I am heading back to college soon anyways. I was prepared to quit if he said no since this might be our one and only vacation together.
I try to stay calm when I hear her come out of her room. We live in a small, but nice two-bedroom ranch. My friends have always complimented the outside. It is all red brick, but has the most beautiful landscaping on our street. I mean I guess that it should since my mom spends so much time planning and tending to all of the trees, bushes and flowers. We have tulips and daffodils that come up in the spring, but then she plants flower after flower in the front and back yard each spring; so much that there is no dirt showing once they grow and bloom. We have a trellis and swing on our back porch over looking another flower garden. No two years look the same since she spends all winter sketching and designing the next year. The inside of our house is not as colorful as the outside. I guess that it is pretty, but in more of a sterile, muted way, of all browns and grays.
As I look at my mom walking into the kitchen, I realize that I sort of described my mom, as well as the inside of our house. For someone who loves flowers and colors so much outside in her garden, she wears only black, gray and brown. She doesn’t wear make up and her hair is brown with steaks of gray in it. I saw pictures of her and my aunt when they were younger once at my aunt Diane’s house. My mom had her hair highlighted blond, and she was wearing enough make up that I could see it in the pictures. She was beautiful. My Aunt Diane would go on and on about how much fun they used to have and tell me all about how my mom was when they were young. My mom is a sweet, generous, funny and caring person; she just doesn’t like to leave the house. When I told her about the pictures and asked why she doesn’t wear make up now, she had just waved her hand and said, “That’s in the past.” I have one picture in a frame of her and my dad together when they first started dating, and she looked so happy and vibrant. I keep it in my drawer because I was afraid that she would be sad when she saw it, and I hated to see her cry. As far as I know she never dated anyone after my dad died. I mean, she never really leaves the house except to go to the grocery store and get stuff for the yard though. As I got older and asked her about dating, she just said that she has never met anyone she wanted to go out with.