Mothers live in the heart
Finding a vein of gold running through the backyard would not have made me nearly as happy as discovering the thorny rose creeping through the wild onions that were having their way in the world.
How many times I had scoured the far reaches of the backyard in search of just one lone survivor of my grandmother’s pink running rose. Mugi, my grandmother, had brought Mama a cutting of the rose in the spring of 1946 to “brighten up the place.”
Daddy was in the Ferry Command during World War II and flew planes out of Gore Field in Montana. Mama followed him there and just about outran him back home when the war was over.
My granddaddy had a tenant house freshly painted and waiting when they got home. But, Mama’s mother, Mugi, said a house is not a home until it’s overrun with roses.
Mama planted the running rose next to the calf barn and it took root and ran. It climbed the wall of the barn, the fence around the hog pen and then made its way out into the yard. The rose even climbed the chinaberry tree.
Daddy said Mama’s running rose and Baptists were taking over the country.
As a child, I didn’t pay too much attention to the roses except when the thorns scratched my hands when I reached in to retrieve a ball or my legs when I climbed the fence to feed the ol’ pig Mama was fattening for the slaughter.
But, on Mother’s Day, the running rose took on an air of great importance.
Mama always sent me to cut roses for “me and her” to wear to church on Mother’s Day.
“You wear a pink or red rose if your mother is living and a white rose if she has died,” Mama explained.
I always cut the biggest and brightest roses for us to wear but, when Mugi was at our house, I had to find the palest rose for her because her mother was dead.
“It’s not real white,” I would say to Mugi and she would say that was all right, that her mother was alive in her heart.
Mugi would cry sometimes because she missed her mama. I thought that was kind of odd because Mugi’s mama died when she was a little girl and she couldn’t remember her. She didn’t even know what she looked like. But she missed her a lot.
Over the years, cutting roses was something I looked forward to each Mother’s Day. It gave me such a sense of belonging and of being loved. Pink roses for mama and me and a pale one for Mugi whose mama lived in her heart.
When I had children of my own, we would go to the climbing rose and cut pink roses for them to wear on Mother’s Day.
In 1980, Mugi died, and I had to cut the palest of the pink roses for Mama to wear on Mother’s Day. Strangely, the climbing rose seemed to have more thorns that year.
In the years that followed, the climbing rose was overtaken by a tangle of brush and the roses had a hard time growing.
It was harder and harder to find roses to wear on Mother’s Day and, then, our church started to hand out roses on Mother’s Day – a pink rose or red rose if your mother was living. A white one if she had died.
Cutting roses for Mother’s Day was not a thing for me to do anymore.
And the old climbing rose just withered and faded from the scene.
Mama died in January 1995 and that year I didn’t go to church on that Mother’s Day.
I just couldn’t be there among the red and pink roses. And, it would hurt too much to wear a white one.
The hands of time have a way of lessening the pain of losing a loved one but there’s never enough time left to erase the grief of the loss of a mother.
For a reason that I can’t explain, I began to wish for that old climbing rose.
It was such a part of my childhood, such a part of Mama, Mugi and me and then my own children.
Every spring in recent years, I would search the backyard and beyond hoping to find a thorny rose creeping along the ground. But it wasn’t until this spring that my wish came true.
There among the honeysuckle vines was the running rose, making its way along the fence as if it had been there all along waiting for just the right time to reappear.
The rose bush is just getting a strong start so there will be no roses this year. But next year, there should be plenty of pink ones and I’ll pick a pale pink one for me because Mama still lives within my heart.
This Mother’s Day, I’ll borrow a phrase from the late Lewis Grizzard. “Hug your mama, today. I sure wish I could hug mine.”