When I was a child in Chicago, my mother’s favorite season was always spring. After every dark, cold winter, she loved to watch the world reawaken and see the first tulip and daffodil bulbs poking through the dirty melting snow. She would throw open the blinds, spring clean with a vengeance, and hound my father to get the ladder out and wash all the windows that she couldn’t reach herself.
In the summer, she loved to garden and simply sit outdoors. She hated roses, but she loved plants and blooming shrubs. I have memories of her bending over in her blue—always the blue–Mom capris with the elastic waistband, weeding and planting until the sweat ran down her face.
“She works like a dog out there,” my father would tell me with a mixture of admiration and impatience. If she wasn’t cleaning or gardening, my mother was perfectly content to stay home alone, drinking coffee, watching the birds, and enjoying the view.
As a teenager, I had no patience for this kind of slow living. I had parties to attend, places to go, people to meet. For many years, my mother and I were disconnected from each other. I had no patience for her mundane housewifely concerns, no interest in discussing how best to clean baseboards or why the lint trap in the dryer needed to be emptied. I needed my world to be bigger, more interesting, and more important.
I moved to Texas and got married. I had a son. My husband and I built a house. And I began to find myself wanting to grow things, itching to bury my hands in the soil. We planted live oak trees. My father died. When I got the phone call on a beautiful spring day in April, I found myself in the garden. Blinded by tears, I planted a bed of pansies before I flew home for his funeral.
After 45 years of marriage, my mother had to learn to live life again as a widow. Without my father, she was like a moon that had lost her sun. She developed a new appreciation for her children. Whenever I would go back home, I would feel the obligation to spend time at her house wearing me down like an iron cloak of guilt the minute I got off the plane. “Come upstairs and sit down for a while,” she would urge me when I would stop by her house. I would sit at her kitchen table with one foot tapping, refusing a sandwich, an eye on the clock.
In the years that followed, I was able to pass along to my son the love of growing things and nature that my mother had given me. I planted a passion flower vine just so we could watch the caterpillars devour it and turn into butterflies. I bought a butterfly net so we could capture and set free any insects that accidentally wandered into the house. When my son was 6, we grew a sunflower that was taller than he was. I snapped a picture of him standing next to it, eyes shining, with a gap-toothed grin.
Then on a cold January night, I got the other phone call that changed my world. My mother had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. The doctors thought she might have two weeks. We called hospice and brought her back to her beloved home. We refused to let them replace her bed with the hospital bed the nurses said would be safer. Instead, we took turns staying up all night to watch over her.
At her insistence, when she no longer had the strength to walk, my sister and I carried her to the bathroom. “I just thought…I would have more time,” she whispered to me, as I sat by her bedside. And so did I. I always thought I would have more time.
My mother died before the spring returned. I came back to Texas and grieved. For months, I could not go near my garden. My spirit felt withered, lonely, and empty. And then one day, when the sun peeked through the clouds, I once again felt the urge to grow something.
I planted frilly-leafed caladiums in the shady spot under the trees and graceful long grasses in the sun, and hung a wooden birdhouse filled with black sunflower seeds for the birds. I sprinkled aquarium pebbles—blue—always the blue—throughout my garden.
Now I look out at my caladiums, grasses, and blue pebbles, and I think of my mother. I see a white feather float by and get caught in the Rose of Sharon tree that blooms in the bed where I planted my father’s pansies.
And I find myself perfectly content to stay home alone, drinking coffee, watching the birds, and enjoying the view.