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Archive for the ‘roses’ Category

My partner Trish loved miniature roses. At one point, she had over forty plants on the balcony of our townhouse and on the courtyard outside. On weekends, she would spend several hours in the morning caring for them. Then, when we did errands in the afternoon, she would take the flowers, wrap them in moist paper towels if it happened to be a hot day, and distribute them to the staff of the stores and services we visited. If any were left over, we put them on display in vases about as high as my thumb, mostly around the computer.

They were very much her concern. I appreciated them as little points of symmetry and color, as well as for their names – Pinstripe, Pandemonium, Cartwheel, Carousel, and Black Jade – but had little to do with them except when buying one occasionally for her.

At one point, Trish had over forty plants. However, by the time she died, the numbers had dwindled to half a dozen, partly through normal attrition, but largely because her final illness kept us busy with more basic concerns.

By the time I had steeled myself to clean out the remains, they were down to four, two of which were not looking overly healthy. Never having been a gardener, I didn’t mind too much. I had more basic things on my mind, and I gave them minimal care only because I associated them with Trish.

But about a month ago, I bought some basil, which I use in spanakopita and lasagna. Somehow, the splash of green made the living room more home-like.

Inspired by that realization, I decided to bring the surviving Black Jade inside. Far from its former glory, it is now a sprig barely twelve centimeters long, clinging to the original root structure, and I thought it needed some shelter in order to survive the winter. Like the basil, it seemed to make my surroundings more comfortable.

Then, last week, I was walking through New Westminster when I saw a half dozen miniature roses on a rack outside a dollar store. One, I was sure, was a Black Jade. On impulse, I picked it up as well as two more.

At home, I put the white and peach flowered plants on the television cabinet, and the Black Jade on the tea tray that I use for a coffee table. They seemed to crowd the living room a bit, but, considering their effect, I decided they belonged there.

They’re not a shrine to Trish. Thirty months after her death, that would be desperate, and more than a little pathetic. But they are a memory of happy times, and they relax my eye as much as the art on the walls.

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Over the past weekend, I was in Terrace in northern British Columbia to attend the graduation ceremony and exhibition for the Freda Diesing School of Northwest Coast Art. I would have wrangled an invitation anyway that I could, because the art show is worth seeing, but fortunately I didn’t have to. I was invited to attend so that I could announce the Mature Student Award, and, just before I rose to spoke, a touching thing happened.

The award was started by me and my late partner, Patricia Louise Williams two years ago, after I noticed that many of the awards for First Nations carvers required that the recipient be under twenty-five. Knowing that older students give up even more than young ones when they return to school, and how much older students add to the class room, we decided that they deserved an award, too.

This year was the first time the award had been given out since my partner died and the award was listed as being in her honor. I knew, too, that Carol Young, last year’s winner, was going to give a eulogy for Trish – something I knew that I could not possibly do without becoming incoherent with tears. So I knew going into the graduation ceremony that my emotions would be running high.

Carol gave a brief speech that had me fighting to keep control. She spoke of Trish’s lifelong interest in Northwest Coast Art and of the crafts that she was always doing. She spoke, too, of Trish’s generosity, and how she used to cut the blossoms from her miniature roses and hand them out when we were on our weekend errands.

Then she announced that, in honor of Trish, each student would take a rose and hand it to someone in the audience.

That was it. I lost all hope of control and started crying. By the time Carol announced me, I could barely see for crying.

I walked slowly to the front, buying time to dredge up some composure. To say the least, I didn’t succeed very well.

Somehow, I managed to stand straight and talk slowly. Afterwards, people said I talked well, but I don’t know if they were being kind or not. I don’t even remember what I said.

But I got through somehow. I may have said that, because of money donated at Trish’s memorial service and raised through the sale of her craft supplies, that this year the award was being given to three students, two of whom were honorable mentions. I’m not sure, though. All I know for sure is that I announced the winners, and handed each a wrapped book, and faltered back towards my seat.

The ceremony ended soon after, and the crowd followed two drummers to Waap Galts’ap, the campus longhouse, which is a happy blend of a traditional Tsimshian and a modern building. There, we heard the students talk, and watched Nuxalk and Tsimshian/Salishan dancers moving around the flats and glass cases of the exhibition.

Occasionally, as the evening continued, I saw people in the crowd holding one of the roses. Usually, they were women, and often seniors, although once I heard a lover give a male student a rose, on the grounds that men rarely receive roses. That seemed especially fitting, since Trish had said something similar to me on my twenty-first birthday.

But no matter who held the rose, the sight never failed to leave a catch in my breath and tears in my eyes. Later that night, as I stared up into the dark in my hotel room, I reflected how strange it was that a gesture carried out by people who had never known Trish should be so much more moving that the memorial service held a few weeks after her death. I was not the least ashamed of crying, because I knew that Trish would have sobbed to see it, and I knew I had to cry in her place. I drifted off in melancholy satisfaction, and slept well I awoke, grateful for the gesture and wondering if it might be repeated next year.

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Wanting to feel useful, today I tackled a task I’ve been putting off: cleaning up the plant pots from the courtyard outside my door. I imagined that I shirked the task because it would be dirty and exhausting, but I had barely begun before I understood that the real reason was I didn’t want to face the memories that lay in wait for me.

Except for the laurel, none of the several dozen pots had been planted by me. It was the sole survivor of three that Trish and I had bought years ago when the strata council had chopped down the fir that shaded our balcony. The others had quickly died, and this one had been moved to the courtyard when our deck was last rebuilt, only to die in last summer’s heat wave when I was too distracted to notice. Our parrots Ning and Sophy had enjoyed having it against the outside of the living room window, since it gave them a hidden place from which to peer out at the world.

The rest were the remnants of miniature roses and one or two efforts at growing mint and other herbs. I had never had a hand in those. They were Trish’s, and among some people she was as well-known for her roses as for always carrying a craft project with her.

Before the carcinoids took hold, an hour or two in the evening or weekends was a part of her life. She was proud of them, having never had much success with gardening before, and she kept her notes about them in a leather-bound book stamped with Celtic knotwork designs. She enjoyed, too, going to the monthly meeting of the local rose society, and she delighted in the names of each rose: Pandemonium, Golden Amber, Black Jade, Pinwheel, and all the rest.

But the real point of growing the roses was distributing the blossoms, few of which were over three centimeters in diameter. Regardless of whether she was going to her job, or we were going shopping at Westminster Quay, the parrot shop, or a bookstore, her departure was always delayed by her snipping the latest blossoms. At summer’s height, she would soak paper towels and carefully wrap the blossoms to preserve them. When she got to wherever she was going, she would hand them out, to the delight and occasional puzzlement of the recipients.

I suppose you could rationalize the distribution of the blossoms by the fact that Trish had several dozen plants, and, when they were blossoming, we hardly had room in our townhouse for more than a few blossoms. But, although we never talked about why she went to such efforts, I knew that she enjoyed offering the small gifts that she had produced to those she saw regularly.

Once, a cashier snootily refused them, and we never shopped at that bakery again. For my part, I was furious that such an innocent and pleasant gesture should be met with hostility. Most people were pleased by the gesture in the middle of their workday, and some came to look forward to it so much that they were visibly disappointed if Trish had run out of blossoms or the plants weren’t producing that day. To some distant acquaintances at Westminster Quay, she was simply the Rose Lady.

But as Trish sickened, she had less energy for roses. One by one, their numbers feel due to frost or disease, and, increasingly, the losses were not replaced. When she could, she still enjoyed tending them and distributing the blossoms, but, with each year she had less energy for anything so active. Nor did she want my help; the roses were her activity, and, not being a gardener and increasingly worried myself, I did not offer help as often as I could.

Two years ago, her health was poor enough that she hardly had time to fertilize the roses, let alone prune or keep them free of disease. Last year, as she struggled with pneumonia and slowly died, she had no time for them at all.

Today, I found that only three rose bushes survived, and one of them will need some concentrated attention to thrive again. But I decided that, despite my lack of gardening skills, I will do my best to keep them alive. The effort is a way I can continue to connect to a time that, nine months later, already seems so fabulous and distant that sometimes I wonder if it existed at all.

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