Of Fathers and Flowers

I promised I’d write about my Dad and the Siberian Irises. They are absolutely gorgeous this year, with at least 50 plants blooming in glorious shades of electric blue, twilight purple and vivid amethyst. They always bloom within a week or so of the anniversary of his passing. It gives me great peace and comfort to see them, because I know he’s thinking of me.

As I’ve mentioned, I am not the most prolific of horticulturalists. I plant, water and keep my fingers crossed. Lilies of all sorts seem to like me. I keep having to weed out the Stella D’Oro’s and the day lilies by the garage. I swear they’d take over the yard otherwise. My father, on the other hand loved working with the good earth. He landscaped in the summers after he retired – literally passing on while doing so. He had many regular clients, and would occasionally hit the jackpot plant wise when they decided to redo their lawns and flower beds. One Saturday morning in the late spring of 1999 or 2000 he showed up at my house with about 30 iris bulbs and a ton of dirt in the back of his pickup. “For your yard,” he said. He’d already been to my sister’s house and dropped off her bulbs. I had no idea where to put them, so they spent the season in the wheelbarrow.

In the fall, we planted them next to the garage, they spent a couple of seasons there , but no likee – not a single bloom in two years. Dad said irises are funny, they don’t like to be too dry, or too wet, and apparently one should not plant them too deeply as I guess they like a bit of sun to warm the bulbs. So we transplanted them to the side of the dike behind the house – and pretty much forgot about them. Until 2005, when The Viking noticed some bright blueish purple amongst the dreck on the dike. Lo and behold and Hosanna! There were actually three blossoms that year I think. I called Dad right away to let him know they were finally blooming. He was pleased and I recall that he said something along the lines of “well they like it there then, should be blooming regularly from now on.”. And they did.

Dad continued spending his summers mowing lawns and taking care of flower beds and transplants. In April of 2007 he developed a hernia and he had surgery on June 1st of that year. I set him up with meals on wheels lunch delivery while he was recuperating – he’d call me every day at lunchtime to let me know what he’d eaten, and to say how great it was that he didn’t have to cook. Now Dad was a stubborn old Yankee. He was chafing at the bit and raring to get back to work. He called me at noontime on June 6 – mentioning that he would be mowing lawns the following day. I promptly reminded him that he needed to get permission from the surgeon first ( he had his recheck appt scheduled for Friday June 8). He came over for supper that night and I reminded him again. He kinda blew me off with a non-commital response, which was very frustrating. Anyway, we went out to check on the irises , but they hadn’t started blossoming. He left, with his usual “Sayonara Kemosabe, Keep the Faith!” And that was the last time I saw my dad alive.

The next day, I jokingly said to my boss as I was leaving work, after relating my frustration – that if he read in the paper that my father was dead it was because I had killed him. I got home and promptly called my sister to kvetch about Dad, and how hard it was to keep him reined in. We commiserated, then said goodbye and I went inside to pour myself a glass of wine before dinner. I came back out on my deck and suddenly there was a policeman in my driveway, telling me I needed to get up to the hospital right away as Dad had had a heart attack. I left immediately and left a message for my sister as to what happened.

When I got there they started giving me “the speech” about what they had done to treat him. I cut the doctor off mid sentence and asked “should I be going to ICU or the morgue”? Dad was gone. He had a massive coronary while unloading his lawn equipment at a clients house. Exactly at the time I was complaining to my boss. Weirdly, it happened exactly as my sister and I had teased him that he would go – when he told us he never wanted to have to go in a nursing home. We’d say “Don’t worry Dad, you’ll drop dead mowing a lawn someday.” Words are powerful things. So I called my sister, saying “I’m at the hospital, Dad’s gone”. Her response was unforgettable: “Where’d he go”? I couldn’t bring myself to say he was dead. Then I called my boss – who told me I wasn’t funny in the least, at first. The next days passed in a nightmarish blur. I thank heaven for my family and my best friend, who got me through and pointed me in the directions I needed to go. The morning after we lost him, I went outside to have my morning coffee, and the irises were blooming profusely. Susan and I decided right then to include the flowers in his funeral arrangement. And so we did.

It’s been five years since we lost my da. Our children have begun graduating high school, and college. His oldest granddaughter is getting married next year. We had to move the irises again, closer to the house due to reconstruction on the dike. They love their new home. Like Dad, they are vivid and colorful. I find great joy, peace,and comfort seeing them blossom – knowing that somehow, someway, somewhere, Dad is watching happily. Put the coffee on Daddy, and pencil me in on your dance card. I’ll see you when I see you. “Sayonara Kemosabe! Keep the Faith!”


20 thoughts on “Of Fathers and Flowers

  1. My dear Donna, thank you for sharing this soul stirring post which obviously came from a deep place in your heart. A big hug to you…It made me think of my Dad who is 70 this year and how I wish we were nearer so that I could spend more time with him. Oh, I have missed catching up with you and hearing from you! And I really must make a special mention here of the STUNNING photography!!!! Absolutely amazing. Take care my dear one. With much love, Sharon

  2. After planting, most of gardening is weeding and keeping things tidy… somewhat like relationships and family. By the way, I happen to include in a e-mail to my brother (discussing the balance between keeping aging parents safe vs involved in meaningful tasks) that my wife will find me someday in a ditch, with a pitch fork cleaning leaves out of a culvert…

  3. My Darling Donna Jean, My memories of your father, Jose, are of a time when I was in my late teens, and filled with the magic that most teens have. He showed me that life was worth living…that a smile can heal, and friendship is worth cultivating….and he was right… Those Irises were worth cultivating… Just like your Dad said. LOL. XXOO. Auntie

  4. Thanks for such a moving post. I’m now crying. It’s funny…I don’t like being the one left with the sudden, unexpected death thing, but then I personally don’t want to linger. I get that, but it’s hard being the living. I remember when my hubby called to tell me my dad had passed away. My brain kept trying to find a way to make it not so in those few seconds immediately following the words. Permanent doesn’t do it justice, but that is what it is. Irrevocable, unchangeable, permanent, no matter how much you want to change it! June 3 will be my dad’s first birthday since he died. I know it will always ache a little, but boy, the early years are so very painful. Hope it’s gotten a little better for you. I can see why the irises mean so much to you. If it were me and I ever had to move, those puppies would be dug up and come with me! Thanks again for sharing!

    • Those flowers will be coming with me for sure if we ever move. These early years are painful, sharply so. It gets easier but it never goes away. Perhaps it’s not meant to, since they mean so much to us. I’m now dealing with significant health issues with both my mother and stepfather; I have to say I’m grateful I never had to do that with Dad. I can remember him as a vital, active and whole person right to the finish. That’s a blessing certainly. It’s also painful to watch someone on the slippery slope of old age and ill health ( or two someone’s) but yeah, I’m with you. I hope I slip away quietly and quickly, without losing ” me” first. Love and Hugs! D.

  5. Such a emotional post, Donna. I lost my dad 10 years ago and as I get older I find myself thinking about him even more and at the strangest moments his image seems to pop into my head. The irises are stunning, you must be so proud. Big hugs to you!

    • Eleenie, same thing happens to me. David Ball’s “When the Thought of You Catches up with Me” captures that perfectly. “When the thought of you comes to mind. It carries me away to a better place in time”. And forget about listening to “One More Day”by Diamond Rio. Thank you, and Big Hugs backatcha! Donna

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