Thursday, June 9, 2011

Perennial Garden

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Early one fall when my mother was ten years old, her aunt who lived nearby transplanted some irises into their garden, just green spears and bulbs with the promise of flowers the following spring.  Little did my aunt know at the time how desperately they would need that bit of color and beauty.   It was 1929 and about a month later, the stock market crashed and Great Depression began. 

Every time my mother and grandmother moved, they brought along the bulbs, dividing the clusters and always leaving some behind, Fort Worth, New York, Chicago, New Jersey, and back again to Chicago.  When my parents eventually moved to Florida in the 1990s, we scooped up some of the bulbs for our own garden.  The irises have now traveled with us to Kansas City, Iowa City, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Chicago.  In each of our nomadic locations, there are irises blooming every spring, the story behind them unknown to those who live in those houses. 

This week I have been writing the obituary for my father who passed away earlier this spring.  Due to space limitations, the entry can only hit the highlights of his career as a scientist, inventor and entrepreneur.  The text seems incomplete, and the words cry out to me what is missing and what really matters.  He was a man of integrity (“if you are going to steal, rob a bank”), a father who provided, a grandfather who desired each newborn to go to college, and a shepherd more than a business man – those who worked for him (some up to 40 years) considered him “family” because that is how he treated them.  He was not a man of many words until very late in his life.  Faith played a large role in his life, even though he didn’t speak much about it.  In his own way, he cared about people, even to the point of initiating a “men’s club” among the elderly men in his assisted living facility.  He outlived them all, including the one woman member who was blind and acted as their secretary.  He was full of stories about growing up in Brooklyn, coming of age in the War, and meeting Eisenhower and Einstein, most of which we never heard until the last few months of his life. 

The iris blooms make me think about what we leave behind.  Our culture thinks largely of the material – “make sure you have a will” – but those who come after us don’t need a tufted chair or a check, but an inheritance that tells of the hope within.  I came across my grandfather’s Bible last week.  He was born in 1866, the year after the Civil War ended, and died decades before I was born.  As I lifted up the crumbling book, what I desired more than anything was a note to fall out that would give me a clue about who he was and what was important to him.  I held his Bible and realized I was holding that evidence in my hand. 

When I became a grandmother, the first thing that profoundly hit me was that everything that I do and say and believe and hold as true will directly affect this little child in my arms.  What am I passing on to her?  Baggage that will weigh her down or perennial hope?  The irises remind me what to leave behind.

We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the LORD, and His might,

and the wonders which He has wrought.

,,,that the next generation might know them,

the children yet unborn,

and arise and tell them to their children,

so that they should set their hope in God…

                                      Psalm 78. 4, 6-7

1 comment:

Pam S. said...

A beautiful, meaningful post, Karen. It made me cry.