Memories in bloom

My sister Clea sent me a bouquet of tulips for my birthday. They arrived in a box, petals still enfolded tightly in small oval buds. Over the course of a few days, the petals began to spread apart, and as I gazed at them, I traveled back in time to a garden from my childhood.

For years, we lived next door to two ladies named Hannah and Marion Jacobsen. HannahandMarion, as we called them when were were little, were sisters who had retired after working as university professors of botany. They lived in a two-story house with a big front porch and a beautiful big yard. No fences marked the boundaries between our two yards, and on Sunday afternoons, we would go to visit the Jacobsen sisters and see what was growing in their garden.

For two little girls, the Jacobsen house felt like magic. They had a white Persian cat named Feathers. They would have cookies and lemonade for us when we visited. And our forays into the garden were magical. The yard had several different paths with dead ends that you could follow, and like all good gardens, this one always held surprises. In the winter time, we would wander over through deep snow and make snowmen in front of their kitchen window, stick hands set to wave at them through the frosted panes. In early summer, we would sit in the yard on folding chairs at dusk, waiting patiently (adults) or impatiently (children) for the evening primrose to unfold its petals and blossom. In August, the ladies showed us how to pluck ripe raspberries from thorny bushes: Look for deep red berries, grasp them gently between your thumb and index finger and pull gently; if the berry falls into your hand, it’s ready to eat. Eating still evokes the sweet-tart taste of summer for me.

The highlight of the year in the Jacobsen garden was the advent of spring, when the heavy snows of eastern Washington began to melt away, revealing patches of grass, snowdrops and daffodils. The sisters grew many different types of daffodils and jonquils of various colors: Double daffs, pale yellow daffs with red-rimmed middles, yellow daffs with orange middles and classic lemon daffs with trumpet-like cups in the middle.

As the early daffodils faded, it was the tulips’ turn. Every day, we would go and look for the latest showy bloom. I had no favorites, I loved them all; the classic red emperor tulips with black pistils, parrot tulips with elegant ruffles and bright orange petals, narrow pointy pink blossoms and purple-black blooms with frilly edges. Some sported pink and white stripes, some had yellow and pink pistils, and some were fat while others were fluted. I inhaled their scent, gently tapped the petals to watch the pollen fall inside the flowery bowl.

Hannah died when I was 12 years old; she was the first great loss of my life. A short time later, Marion sold the house next door and moved to Port Angeles, then Spokane. I moved away for college, and I have not lived in tulip country most of my adult life. But it is nice to know that a simple bouquet can bring back memories from a childhood garden of delight.

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