June 15, 2017
“William’s Red Roses”
Friday Favorites —
William’s Red Roses
A Favorite Story
from the book
Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
This weekend is Father’s Day.
Father’s Day holds a bittersweet memory of my relationship with my own father, William McKinney (1916 – 1988).
The story begins on page 45 in my book,
Walking by Inner Vision: Stories & Poems. DLD Books, 2017..
From the beginning, when I first wrote this story, it is a favorite story.
Perhaps you will think of your own father at this time, and reflect on some moments with him that helped you become the person you are today. You may read the story, for I have presented it here on SCAN Blog. I am a mature woman, as the story begins. I have just made a discovery that harkens back to the distant past and opens a floodgate of memories of my father.
William’s Red Roses
Early morning is my favorite time of day. My habit is to walk into the bathroom, pull up the blind, and peer outside to see what this new day is like. When I looked out the window early this morning, it was not yet daylight. The world was a soft, hazy, grayish blue. Snow! Newly fallen snow-covered the earth like a pristine, frigid blanket. The wind was not blowing and the fresh day seemed eerily still. Even the early morning shrieks of black crows were absent. I glanced out over the wooded hillside, far beyond this second–story window. Everything was quiet. Subdued. Bleak.
A winter storm moved in yesterday, just as the weather reports predicted. By noon, the rural roads in our neighborhood were already covered with the kind of large snowflakes that quietly surrounded everything. There is something about the anticipation of a snowstorm that stirs us to remember our childhood.
“Oh, this is the perfect snowstorm! It’s the kind of snowfall that I love,” I shouted to my husband. “It’s exactly the kind of crisp, cold winter day that makes me so excited. I feel like I am a little child when I see this snow,” I continued to tell him. I admit I am nostalgic when snow brings layers of distant memories back to my mind. Memories of past years arrived with the snow. They are like a child’s building blocks, tumbling down one over another. Thoughts of childhood mingle with the aromas in my mother’s kitchen on distant winter days as I peered through the fogged–up windowpane.
On winter days, my mother often baked chocolate chip cookies, yeast breads, and pumpkin pies for the family. She knew her four children would be hungry when they came home from school in the late afternoon. We smelled the fragrances of her baking as we opened the back door into the kitchen.
In the early 1950s, my mother could have been one of the women in the magazine advertisements. She might have been Betty Crocker. She wore a freshly ironed cotton house dress as she cleaned, cooked, and sang hymns as she moved through the house. She had a clear alto voice and the people at church always requested that she sing something special in church on Sundays.
I have no memories of my mother wearing anything but a cotton dress every day. She wrapped a starched and ironed pastel gingham apron around her waist. The apron covered the front of her dress when she was cooking. Later, when I was in high school, she expanded her wardrobe and occasionally wore a pair of slacks.
We grew up knowing for sure that our mother was a lady. It had nothing to do with our humble economic status. Prior to the 1960s a lady would never think of wearing anything but a dress every day to do her household chores and cooking for her family.
Yesterday, my own kitchen was warmer than usual. The room smelled like sweet, ripe, red cherries and spicy cinnamon. I opened the oven door a little at a time to let the hot, fragrant vapors escape and warm the room around me. I put on oven mitts, reached into the hot oven, and slowly, steadily, pulled out the piping hot glass baking dish. This was the perfect day to bake a cherry crisp! Before it had a chance to cool, I dug a soup spoon deep into the cherry crisp and removed a little dish of the sweetness. I told myself, Just a little taste!
As I lifted the warm, red cherry delight to my mouth, I reflected on the snow outside the windows, noticing how it had accumulated on the old, weathered gray fence that surrounds the yard. The oak fence was built by my husband, our children, and some of their strong, male teenage friends in the summer of 1977. The fence surrounded the swimming pool built that spring. Every year since then, in springtime, the fence becomes the backdrop for the perennials when they begin to bloom.
Why is it that on solitary winter days, distant memories come calling?
Today, I felt transported to a particular sparkling day in August. It was my birthday; my father gave me a red rose-bush in a black plastic container. Thin roots burst out from holes in the bottom of that container. I knew the rose bush desperately needed to be planted so it could thrive but I was so young and busy taking care of my large family and didn’t take the time to appreciate the gift. I did not plant it for a couple more years. This particular memory makes me feel so disappointed in myself. Because of my neglect, the bush did not flourish and it did not bloom. A rose bush is meant to be planted by just such a fence as I had, so that it could bloom and twine upwards toward the morning light.
About fifty summers passed since my father gave me that red rose-bush. Once it was finally nestled in the rich, dark earth next to the wooden fence, I never had the heart to dig it up, even though it never bloomed. I left it there as a reminder that time passes rapidly, and one day it is too late to say “thank you.” Too late to appreciate some gifts we received when we were young. A dull sorrow always took root in my heart when I thought of that rose bush.
But, as I watched the snow drifting this morning, onto the wooden fence, it unearthed more memories.
Last summer, I found something so unexpected out there on that old fence that I had to walk closer to have a better look. Could it possibly be what I was thinking it might be? Closer inspection revealed that the old rose-bush my father gave me for my birthday so long ago was in full bloom! A joyous riot of deep red color wound all over the fence. The thorny, thick vine moved through the rough, weather worn planks, from the inside of the fence to the outside. From every angle, the fully blooming roses could be seen. The tender tips of the branches reached upwards, far beyond the tops of the fence slats. It reached upwards, swaying in the sunlight of a balmy summer day. I stood entranced by those old–fashioned, deep red roses. They were wide open, with soft crimson petals flying outward. There was an inner crown of tiny little yellow pistils that looked like a circle of delicate yellow flowers surrounding the roses’ centers.
My father’s roses were blooming! In my great amazement,
I said it out loud. “My father’s red climbing roses are blooming!
Oh, thank you, Dad!”
I thought about my father’s birth name, William—an ancient name going back to the Teutonic ages. It’s a strong name. A perfect name for a little boy who would be orphaned in childhood. A young husband who was drafted into WW II and would leave his wife and new baby girl to spend two years in freezing trenches during winter days in Europe. A hard–working father who would labor in the steel mills for a weekly paycheck to support the family he loved. A valiant man who gave the days and years of his life for the family and never expected anything in return. We learned the lessons of living a good life in the home he built for us with his own hands.
Names are important. Dad’s Germanic name is Wilhelm. It can be broken down into two parts. “Will” means to desire. “Helm” is a helmet. William, my father, desired to teach his children how to live an honorable life. In order to do that, he picked up his steel lunch bucket and safety helmet in the early morning when his children were still asleep in their beds. In the darkness of the morning, Dad left for his long walk down the railroad tracks and through the woods, and finally crossed over the creek on the wooden planks of a swinging bridge to eventually reach the entrance gate of the steel mill.
Today, I know that beneath the layer of snow, just in front of the weathered fence, there is a red rose-bush waiting through the silence of the wintry weather.
Sunshine will come in the spring to warm the chilled earth. The red rose-bush will begin to grow once again.
My husband has turned up the radio in the warm kitchen. He is listening to the radio. I walk into the kitchen and we embrace. My husband has a wide smile on his face. He tells me this is his favorite song. We dance together until the song ends.
Spring did arrive as it always does, but the winter months had been unusually harsh, and we lost many plants and trees during the icy storms. William’s red roses never bloomed again.
“William’s Red Roses” won 1st Place in the NFB Writing Division Contest, 2013.
It was published in the Spring/Summer Edition of Slate & Style Literary Magazine, 2013.
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Copyright June 2018. Lynda McKinney Lambert. All rights reserved.
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