Mom's Garden of Roses

            Our first house was literally the smallest house on the block. It consisted of only two bedrooms and one bathroom, all for a house full of kids. We did not have a big front yard.  It was a porch with steps and a long hedge made of stone, that stood about six inches tall and surrounded the whole front of the house .In this area stood two lifeless rose trees. The rose trees showed not an ounce of life. The bodies did not stand straight up; they went up then curved downward, with their long branches hanging down, almost touching the dry earth beneath them. It looked as if they had given up on life. My dad ready to pry them out and discard of them, when my mom said, “No let them be. I will trim away the dead and take care of them If they do not come back to life, well then I will remove them.”

Thus began the beginning of my mom’s passion for roses. Those rose trees still flourished strong thirty-five years later. People thought they were fake, because their leaves were such a dark green, and when they got wet, the water would bead right off of them, not leaving any trace that water had once touched its surface. The rose petals were light pink in color that grew close together, almost forming a round tight ball. The scent was very soft almost powdery, the way you would imagine light pink would smell. They met their demise when the city demolished our old house. We tried with such effort to uproot them to mom’s new house. We dug deep around them as to not cause damage to the roots. But it seemed with every pull and tug, their roots would hold on tighter, as if saying “Stop! I do not want to go! This is where I belong; this is my home.”

 But the biggest part of my mom’s garden happened in our backyard. What space we lacked inside our house, was abundant in our backyard. This is where she would get lost on a regular basis, lost in her garden. She would wear a pair of old shoes and a long apron, in which she would hold her small hand shears. She did not like to use gardening tools; her hands were her tools. She would pull weeds with ease and cut away the wilted foliage and blossoms. The soil had to be mixed and broken up by hand till it could flow through your fingers like the sands of an hour glass.  

Growing up I thought, that tending garden was like a chore, and I was not very fond of it. I remember one day coming home from school, I called out for my mom. The previous night she had an argument with my dad; if that’s what you could call, my dad beating her. After not finding her inside the house, I knew I would find her in the backyard. She stood there holding on to a rose that she had cut from her garden. She took a deep whiff of the rose and smiled, all while lost in thought.  That particular rose was one of her favorites. The stems had very big thorns that could draw blood from you, in no time flat.  The foliage was very large in width and length. But nothing compared to the color and size. The petals were the darkest red black that I had ever seen; it looked like if it was made of the softest velvet that could ever exist. If you pulled one petal and placed it on the middle of the palm of your hand, the length and width of the petal would cover it whole. The aroma that this rose gave out was so strong, as if it was pure concentrated rose oil.

As I approached her I noticed her hands were dirty, she had dirt embedded underneath her nails, and traces of dry blood from the freshly made scratches the thorns had inflicted on her. Her shoes were immensely soiled. And then there was the garden, not a weed in sight, the soil freshly cultivated. Then it came to me, as she suddenly glanced my way, her face had a calm peaceful look. She smiled at me, and began talking to me as if the night before never existed. I helped her cut more roses of different colors, but all with the same enormous attributes. What I thought was just a hobby, was indeed so much more and I learned that over the years to follow.

I remember as an adult, coming home from work, eager to pick up my kids from my mom’s house. I could hear them in the garden, my daughter asking a million questions, about the flowers and my mom patiently answering her. My son sat on the ground making small roads around the plants with his toy cars.  All three were covered in dirt, but they did not mind, they didn’t even notice when I had approached. I could not help but stand there and join in- on their conversation. As I stood there in conversation with them I could not help but admire her work and inhale all the multiple scents that surrounded us. As we walked out of the garden, the stress from my work day had subsided. Now, this was something that not only I experienced, but the whole family did as well. If a family member needed to talk, that is where you could find them, and it was not unusual to find members of the family, standing in the garden lost in thought. It was like we all knew that if we needed some peace or time away to think. We would walk to mom’s garden, and somehow she always knew if we just needed time alone or somebody to talk to.

In a recent conversation with my oldest daughter, Emily age 21 and my niece Veronica, age 28. I realized that both of them had a special bond with my mom. Veronica was my mom’s caregiver during her final stages of cancer. As for Emily, my mom helped me raise her, so she was in fact a second mom, to my daughter. I brought up the subject of my mom and her garden and how I missed the sight of her flowers and roses. As well as the aromas that the flowers emitted, the chickens that she allowed to scratch at the soil and peck at the bugs that fed on her plants.  

As soon as they heard me mention mom’s garden, thief faces lit up and both had the biggest grin, the kind of grin that would make your own cheeks hurt from just looking at them. Vero expressed with enthusiasm how her grandma had the best garden ever. Emily agreed as well and added how much grandma loved her roses and how they were her grandma’s passion.

We talked about our fondest memory when it came to her garden. As crazy as it sounded, I mentioned how much I actually missed waking up early to help her tend the garden.  The pulling of the weeds, which never had a chance to make their presence fully known. The smell of the freshly turned soiled and the early birds chirping a song, from the branches of the trees surrounding us. But most of all I missed our conversations, conversations that I may not remember entirely but the feelings and time spent were unforgettable.

Vero went on to explain, slightly laughing how she and her little sister would make mud pies in the garden while grandma did her gardening. Then they would pluck petals off the roses, and decorate their mud pies. They would stand back and admire their work as if they were bakers and just finished their masterpiece.  Emily explained that it was the look on grandma’s face; she had this look that said so much, and how she never stopped smiling, and you never wanted to look away because you wanted to see if she would ever stop smiling. She knew it bought her peace and joy.

I noticed, it was becoming harder for us to talk, emotions were running strong, but we continued on. Vero described one of her best feelings ever, and that was when she would sit in the garden, the moment right after she finished watering her roses. And you could smell the scent of sweet roses and wet dirt. It was a scent like no other and it evoked such an indescribable feeling.

With a tear slipping out of the corner of my eye, my voice somewhat crackling I took a deep breath of air and asked; do you think there was more to her gardening? I watched my niece Veronica, wringing her hands back and forth, as if she had a wet cloth in her hand, and was trying to squeeze all the water out. She responded, without looking our way, trying to be strong, but the tears started to flow. “It was her way of getting away” …taking a deep breath… “For her to think and or mediate” She then became lost in her thoughts.  I could almost see her visualizing her grandma, standing in her garden, her favorite place to be.

As for Emily, her emotions gave way, her tears running freely, down her barely noticeable freckles that slightly covered her nose and the top of her cheeks. She was the only one in the family who has freckles and my mom would say it was because god kissed the tip of her nose and caused those freckles to appear.  Grasping for air all while trying to speak, in between sobs she said “I think gardening was her escape from reality, it was more than just a hobby, it was something she loved and cherished dearly”

It was indeed a memorable conversation that I will always cherish. We cried but not because we were sad, but because we were able to remember the woman who was short in stature, frail at times but she was the backbone of the family. As well as the strongest role model we had in our life. I am glad that I am not the only one that would cherish those memories of my mom’s garden. Memories that will be etched in our minds, and hearts forever, and that will forever be shared with the generations to come. My mom’s garden was her oasis in the middle of chaos.


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