As a child growing up in rural Texas, I had two grandmothers as influencers; “Big Granny” and “Little Granny.” They were as different their descriptive nicknames. But they had one thing in common, and that was their love of flowers.
Big Granny was stern and formal. I don’t recall her ever talking much…at least not to me. I was terrified of her. Her and her scary dog, too. She had a bad case of “resting bitch face” (no doubt where I inherited mine) so you could never tell whether or not to approach, because she rarely appeared to be smiling. I gave her a wide berth. However I was fascinated by her flower garden. As I recall, it was well maintained with neatly pruned rose bushes and tall stalks of gladiolas and snapdragons. She wore one of those big, starched wide brimmed prairie sun bonnets when she gardened. And gloves to protect her gnarled hands from the thorns. Though I can’t help but wonder what protection the roses had in return, as their big, broad, pale blooms drooped and dropped their short life across her kitchen table.
Little Granny, on the other hand, was soft and squeezable. Her facial features were rounded, her cheeks rosy, like a female version of Santa Claus. Her skin was soft and dewy, but speckled with age spots. When I look at my own skin now, my once Coppertone tan dispersing into old people’s freckles, I think of Little Granny’s cheeks polka dotted with age spots.
Our favorite thing to do together was have “hot tea,” made from her iron-rich well water, Nestea, and Coffeemate creamer, drank from her pale green jadeite mugs, their hairline cracks stained from years of use more telling than tea leaves. After tea, we would sit out in her enclosed back porch while she would commence sewing at her machine. I’d watch while the fabric flew beneath the presser foot, the makings of my new dress for the first day of school, chiffon for my piano recital, or my first flared-leg, plaid 70’s pantsuit to wear when girls were finally allowed to wear pants to school. Granny’s sunny back porch was a safe haven throughout my life.
While Big Granny’s flower garden was tidy and formal, Little Granny had a back yard filled with wildflowers. A sea of blue in the spring, covered in a magic carpet of Texas bluebonnets. It was thick and beautiful to observe, but a little risky to penetrate. There could be snakes, for heaven sakes! But the reward of standing in the midst of that field of faintly fragrant bluebonnets, punctuated by the taller orange Indian paintbrush was a reward worth the risk.
When the bluebonnets weren’t blooming, there were pungently spicy white, pink, and magenta phlox, buttercups, and my personal favorite, lantana. Each small bloom made up of a dozen “florets” in yellow, orange, pink and lilac made the perfect miniature flowers to decorate my mud pies made from the red sandy, loamy soil beneath the giant catawba tree in Granny’s back yard.
Flowers have always been my most favored accessory in life, for the fragrance as much as the beauty. The spicy scent of a carnation will immediately take me back to wrist corsages worn as Flower Girl, or later Duchess to the King and Queen in that un-airconditioned gymnasium for our small town May Fete. The heady, overpowering, almost nauseating sweetness of the Rubrum Lilies weighing heavily in my hands as a bouquet on a reluctant wedding day. That musty smell of dried flowers from both my grandmothers graves, pressed flat between yellowing pages of a hard back book. And to this day, I carry one dried white rose which hangs over the door of the Winnie, plucked as a last memento before my dear brother’s casket was lowered into the ground. Yes, flowers decorate my deepest memories.
Flowers have also decorated my bucket list over the years. I longed to walk through fields of lavender, something I got to do in 2014 during the Sequim Lavender Festival, intoxicated by the clean, crisp lemony aroma mixing with the salty sea breeze. Still on the list are the tulip fields of Amsterdam. I’ll get there one day.
But cultivated flowers aside, what really thrills me is a disorderly, chaotic, wildly untamed field of wildflowers. It takes me back to five years old, weighing the risk versus reward of wading out to immerse myself in a field of Texas bluebonnets in Little Granny’s back yard. Whereas man has had a hand in cultivated flowers, wildflowers are all Mother Nature’s doing. One hundred percent organic. Natural, untamed, tenacious and spontaneous. Wild and free. Like in Little Granny’s back yard. Like I aspire to be.