Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mother's Day

Especially Gardenias

The sweet aroma of gardenias on a warm summer day takes me back to a little house in South Carolina where my grandmother once lived.  The yard of her cottage style home nestled in the Carolina pines, was filled with flowers. To this day, flowers remind me of her. Sometimes the smell of pine trees, or roses, or camellias will take me back – but especially gardenias. 

My grandmother was born in 1890. Not even five feet tall, she was a petit beauty with deep blue eyes and a contagious laugh. Once while visiting a zoo; she drew quite a crowd when she laughed at a parrot who parroted her laughter back at her. This caused her to laugh all the more causing the parrot to mimic her again. The cycle continued for quite a while. They were the zoo’s biggest attraction that day.

In 1911, she married my grandfather, a country doctor who could not afford an engagement ring. His bride wore a plain gold band. Twenty one years later he surprised her with a diamond ring. He had scrimped and saved for years!

Life was not easy for her. Her oldest child, a son, became progressively crippled. No one knew why. Even his father, the physician, was stumped. My grandmother watched as her first born began to decline as a teenager. She stood bravely beside him, as he lost his ability to walk, became wheelchair bound, and eventually died at the age of 28. Later, her husband too died from a heart attack leaving her a widow with one child still at home. 

In 1956, my parents became foreign missionaries to Africa. Shortly afterwards, my grandmother was diagnosed with a serious disease. When, I was born and given my grandmother’s name, there was no quick way to get news from Africa to the US in those days. But the news arrived at the best possible moment.

She was lying in a hospital bed. Her usual chipper, in love with life, personality was uncharacteristically despondent. She was alone when there was a knock on her door. In walked a nurse with a letter in her hand… from Africa! Her mood lifted immediately and she made a decision. To that baby, born half a world away in the jungles of Africa, her namesake, she would leave her diamond engagement ring.

I have vivid memories of this lovely woman for whom I am named. I remember her laughter. Visiting her was a delightful treat! She told stories, read adventure books, sang songs, and let us push her wheelchair around her beautiful, flower filled yard. And Oh! – The flowers! Roses, daisies, carnations, camellias, and gardenias – especially gardenias!

As I write this, I look at my ring. It’s a brilliant cut diamond set in an antique, “Old Mine” setting. I look at the ring and think of the woman who gave it to me. And then I remember her laughter and her flowers – especially gardenias!




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