Roses grew wherever we lived. If they weren’t there when we moved in, they were just as soon as we could plant them.
There were things Mother was not: well-educated, cultured, stylish, soft-spoken or grammatically correct. I’d add ‘politically-correct’ to that large group of glaring shortcomings, but it hadn’t yet been invented. Growing up, I of course held forth on my mother’s horrifying lack of couth and cool. She was obviously busy with ‘other things’ and seemed to have no concept of how embarrassing it was for all my buds to have cool moms who knew how to be beautiful and dress up once in awhile.
It hadn’t yet dawned on me that, given time and opportunity, she’d have welcomed and excelled at them all. Those ‘other things’? They included trying to raise three young children, my siblings, during the Great Depression. And trying to make ‘home’ out of tents or boxcars, discarded apple boxes and makeshift curtains. Beautiful? Dress up? It took me long years after leaving home to appreciate just how small and self-absorbed was my thinking during those growing-up years. It also then dawned on me that my buds’ moms weren’t always beautiful and dressed up, either.
Mother had neither time nor opportunity, for she considered other things of greater value and chose to invest what time and opportunity she had on them.
Those other things Mother was: artistic, musical, colorful, musical, passionate, hospitable, musical, curious, adventuresome, industrious, tough, opinionated, persistent, strong-willed and a powerful Christian.
Doubt me? How many tear-stained Bibles have you seen? There’s an old southern gospel song entitled, “When Mama Prayed, Heaven Paid Attention.” It could have been written about Mother.
One of the things about which my mom was empassioned was roses. I never knew where her love affair with roses began. When I was born, I think she brought me home, detoured by the flower bed, held me up and said, “Son, these are roses. Get used to ’em.”
Daddy worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, helping build the dams along the Columbia River. We never owned a home; we were renters for my entire life until I left home to epitomize coolness for my generation.
Being renters never mattered to Mother. She always made everywhere we ever lived look like home. Some of those houses were, to my young eyes, mighty humble – but every one of them was festooned with flowers and vines and grasses – and adorned with roses. Always roses.
Memories tend to fade. I don’t recall some of the places we lived, but I remember there were always roses outside the door, lending their mixed, exotic perfume to the air. It was Mother’s way of saying, “You are always welcome at our table. Come on in and have some coffee.”
Did I mention she was musical? Don’t get me started. She played several instruments – yes, including violin – and had a voice RCA was willing to record. They asked. She refused. She told them she’d recently become a Christian after years of playing piano for dances; that she had three children to raise, and wanted to do it right. All her musical ability was focused on and through us. There was always music and harmonizing around the piano in our home.
Yes, some memories soften around the edges, as if somebody deft with Photoshop got hold of them.
One thing is indelibly and sharply tattooed on my heart, branded in my memory. No matter where we were, how difficult things were, nor how briefly we lived there, every house in which we lived was ringed by gorgeous, marvelously-scented roses. You could tell where the Boones had lived. Just follow the trail of rosebushes . . .
The day before my wife and I were married, we went two places: the Portland zoo and the International Rose Garden. I’m told on that same hill there is a world-class Japanese Garden. In all the years I lived in Portland, I never saw it; I always was stunned, stopped by the beauty and swirling scents of acres upon acres of every imaginable color and aroma of rose.
When we established our first home together, you can guess what was the first thing I planted. Brenda and I had jotted down the names of a dozen or so of the roses from Portland that had caught our eye; and when we moved from place to place, we were always on the lookout for any or all of those bushes.
Across 40-plus years of marriage, we’ve only owned two homes; once just after separating from USAF service; and now. Like many others, we’ve lived in our share of rentals. Air Force life, government service, pastoral ministry . . . and some were, ah, underwhelming. Yet we chose to raise our three with the understanding that with soap, elbow grease, sweat equity, paint and some imagination, anywhere can be home.
My son and daughters figured it out. Just as their grandma planted and loved having roses everywhere she lived, so does their mom. They grew up observing some of the very same qualities in Brenda that I saw in Mother. She could have switched places with my hardy, tough mother and persevered where many another would have caved and given up.
I admire her and honor her as I did my Mother – once I grew up enough to see who she really was. Brenda is the oldest friend I have on Earth as well as my wife and the only mother I know who could have refereed the raising of our three and survived the experience. No children have been more bathed in daily prayer by their mother than ours.
Though we began our married life with me hunting roses each time we moved, at some point she began scoping out nurseries and haunting Walmarts . . .
“Hey, honey? I just happened to see a Blue Lady at WalMart, and there’s a President Lincoln at Dillon’s . . .” Now, she’s been wise enough not to touch them; Mother’s green thumb became mine. In this case, separation of powers was both wise and cost-effective. I plant ’em; she smells and enjoys ’em.
There’s another similarity between my mother and my kids’ mother: they both evaluated the difference between makeup and a beautiful heart and chose the latter: beauty from the inside-out. They both showed their kids the importance of being good over looking good. And oddly enough, the being good dragged the looking good right along with it. The women in my life all had and have great-looking hair.
So I suppose it’s true: in some ways a guy will go looking for a wife who reminds him of his mom. It all depends on who and what his mom was as to whether that’s a good concept. The mother of my kids bears an uncanny resemblance to the mother of my siblings. And that’s a good thing.
The fact that she loves roses? That’s just more perfume in the air. It just makes scents that all the women in my life loved and love roses.
You might be wondering why I waited until after Mother’s Day to write this. By now, if you’ve followed my writing for any time at all, you’ve noticed I don’t always write prior to an event or holiday. It derives from my thoughtful mien, in addition to an old chaplain’s habit of reflection. I find little authentic meaning in the feverish, often-last-minute – and sometimes just plain funny – scramble to ‘remember’ special days of the year or in individuals’ lives. I also find few prepared greeting cards that speak from where my heart, mind and spirit live.
It takes time to reflect. To give thoughtful reflection about a person or event.
Just as it takes time to grow a rose. We went out together for Mother’s Day and chose a beautiful, deep purplish-scarlet plant, which I spent part of Monday planting. It will be one of the most gorgeous we have ever grown. If we’d gone out with Mother, it would’ve been a pure white one. Brenda’s mom? Bright yellow. Definitely bright yellow.
We’ve grown our share, and not a one of them ever grew, leafed out, budded or blossomed at the last minute. But given time and attention, they did grow. Every one had its own haunting, delicate appearance and perfume. And their amazing beauty and aroma always marked wherever we’ve called home.
Want to know where this generation of Boones have lived?
Follow the trail of rosebushes.
© D. Dean Boone, May 2015