A Red Rose for Me, Please


rose arch

May is the month of roses.  Flower nurseries display them in colorful profusion on roadsides and sidewalks.  Magazine covers are graced with their heavenly beauty in every grocery store book section and brides look to their local florists to work rose magic into their bridal bouquets.  In May, botanical gardens are in their heyday with people paying money to visit their rose gardens and walk slowly through the graveled walkways, getting high off of the heady scent of heirloom rose blossoms.  Horses even run for them at the Kentucky Derby.  They are sought after, admired, planted, babied, cut and put in vases in houses around the world.  Roses are given in friendship, sympathy, thanksgiving, hope and love.  They make statements and may even contain mysterious messages to those who receive them.  May and roses.  Roses and May.  They go together like …champagne and celebrations, mommies and babies, daddies and mommies, birthday cakes and ice cream, steak and baked potatoes…

I remember my grandmother used to grow roses.  They grew in her humble garden against the fence in her back yard.  If I can recall correctly, there was a zigzag line of about a dozen roses bushes, interspersed with tomato and pepper plants.   She and Granddaddy maintained them meticulously, pruning them in the late fall, fertilizing them in the Springtime and spraying them with Sevin Dust every time they saw an enemy insect encroaching on their tender leaves.

By mid April, we could always see the buds forming on the stems, promising us a May show stopper. I always thought the song, “Though April Showers may come your way.  They bring the flowers that bloom in May,” was about my grandmother’s roses. I know, I was a sensitive kid that put songs with my reality, but I  noted every rain storm and every rain drop during April knowing, that in May, there would be beautiful roses.  April and rain.  May and roses….Red_rose

My Grandmother never let a rose stay on the stem to fade.  That would be wasting it’s beauty and fragrance.  After all, who is outside long enough to enjoy all of the rose’s phases?  No one!  She would cut them at the height of their young adulthood and bring them into the house, placing them in arrangements or giving them away to the sick, elderly or the person who was in need of  “cheering.”  I was on the receiving end of her rose generosity many times.

Actually, my grandmother was the first person who ever gave me flowers.  I remember being sick and she would bring me a little bouquet of roses wrapped at the bottom of the stems in a wet paper towel.  She would search through the cabinets and find a glass or little vase to put them in and place them by my bedside.  They smelled good and were so cheerful, I immediately felt better.

Sometimes, just because she had some roses that needed cutting, she would bring them over to our house and suddenly, we were all the better for having them.  They were beautiful statements,  gracing our table with a genteel finery that was rare for our young family.  The roses made us feel special, made the house smell heavenly and reminded us that we were apart of an elite flower lover’s society:  Grandmother Painter’s Rose Club.

The best part of the Rose Club was when Mother’s Day came around.  On Saturday afternoon, Grandmother would say, “Don’t forget.  Tomorrow’s Mother’s Day and we all have to wear our roses to church.  You wear a red rose if your mother is alive and a white rose if your mother is not living.  Don’t worry.  I’ll bring the roses and some straight pins for all of you before church.   We’ll put them on your lapels or collars.  We can’t forget the roses.”

And we didn’t.  Grandmother and Granddaddy would come a bit earlier to our house before Sunday School started.  She would have a large bouquet of red roses mixed with a few whites in a mason jar.  We  (all five of us children) would stand in line and wait for our red rose to be pinned on our dresses or suit coats.  I always thought the red rose stood for the red blood of my very much alive mother.  Grandmother and Granddaddy would always pin white roses on themselves and over the years, my mother had to switch from a red rose to a white one.  I remember when my Grandmother, Annis Sasser died, I thought to myself,  “Oh no, Momma’s going to have to wear a white rose on Mother’s Day!”  That was one of my first thoughts when I heard  the sad news of her death.

I recall going to church, my red rose prominently pinned on my chest and thinking how lucky I was to be wearing a red rose.  I would look around and see so many white roses on older people and I would think, “These people no longer have a mother. What is it like to not have a mother?”  The reds and the whites.  The living verses the dead.  Why did we have to see that  differentiation in church?  The “reds” felt sorry for the “whites.”  They “whites” really wanted to be “reds.”roses

As a child, it made me a bit sad.  I didn’t realize it was about honor.  We were just honoring our parents whether they were still with us in this world or already in heaven.  All I saw was red and white.

I love roses in May, but I can’t help but remember when we wore them to tell the world on Mother’s Day, whether or not our mom’s were alive.  I don’t practice this old tradition anymore, but every Mother’s Day, I look around for red roses, not white ones.  The whites are beautiful in their snowy beauty, but the red ones make me glad for every mother that ever lived.  I would never wear white roses.  Only red for me!  Long live Mothers, their memories and their unfailing love!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Here’s your song




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