My mother’s birthday is just a few days away.
The date, June 9, doesn’t always click for me. Even though I am really good with dates, I sometimes forget to associate June 9 with a woman who passed away a little over six years ago. I’ve even forgotten about Mother’s Day in recent years.
My mother and I weren’t very close. We were very different people. Her entire life was about homemaking and family; I was a bookish daydreamer who could keep myself entertained sitting on the porch swing for hours on end, just thinking. We grew more distant as multiple sclerosis ravaged my mother’s body. She had a stroke. She went blind. She was disappointed that I wanted to go away to college.
She didn’t want me to leave. I couldn’t stay.
We rarely spoke of about anything meaningful. She wasn’t interested in my work or my writing or my life. I wasn’t ready to marry and have children.
She began to sleep through my visits.
And then she died.
My family owned property at a little man-made lake in Miami County, Kansas. While my mother was still well, we made regular trips to Miami County from our home in Kansas City, Kansas. Back in those days, it seemed like a long way. Back in those days, it involved miles and miles of driving through farmland, farmland that is now heavily splattered with the detritus of suburbia.
Because we actually owned this little piece of not-lakeside property, one of our first chores each season was to clean up the land. One year, when I was young, my mother spotted these beautiful purple flowers growing alongside the road. She insisted my father dig some up to take with us.
The flowers were so different from anything we could buy at the local nursery: three perfect purple petals, connected in the center by yellow-tipped, fuzzy purple stamens. Flowers, just waiting for their turn to open, were draped in chains next to the ones already on display. I never new what they were called, but they spoke to me. They spoke to my mother.
Every year, like clockwork, those purple flowers bloomed next to the patio of our back porch. As the spring passed to summer, nature worked its way through the chain of blossoms. Then the leaves died back and prepared the groundwork for the next year.
I spent many evenings sitting on that porch swing, surrounded by giant grape leaves and those purple flowers. As I progressed through my teenage years, and my mother’s health began to noticeably decline, those purple flowers were steady and true.
My mother couldn’t see them anymore, but she knew they were there.
Almost nine years ago, my husband and I bought our first house. After living in apartments for several years, I was most excited about having my own dirt to play in.
Like my mother, I love flowers.
I toured every nursery and gardening department in our town, considering, debating, planning.
I saw a familiar leaf pattern. A uniform grass green, long and slender shoots coming straight out of the soil. I looked at the tag inside the box, at the picture of the pretty purple, three-pedaled flower. Spiderwart.
I had never even known what they were called. But when I held that seedling in my hands, I knew I had to have it.
Every year, at this time, the spiderwarts are at their peak. I am drawn to them. I photograph them. I marvel over how much they have spread since the previous year. I know I can count on them. Every year, when the first blooms in the chain emerge, I think about being a little girl at the lake with a mother who could still walk, about being a sullen teenager on the back porch with a mother who could not.
I think about this one thing my mother and I could agree was beautiful and good.
And I think about my mother.