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The Peonies

Peonies were my momma’s favorite flower. They appeared with regularity (and great fanfare) at all special events and celebrations, whenever she was in charge of the decorations. Because peonies aren’t commonly grown in the hot climate of South Louisiana, finding a supply in those pre-internet days was quite a feat. But she was relentless in her search, usually ordering them weeks in advance. Perhaps their scarcity is what made them all the more special. She would take a deep whiff of their heady scent and for a moment escape to some ethereal place of joy. I can remember marveling at how someone could delight in something so simple, but I suppose that was one of the many lessons that she taught me about life.

When she passed away, taken from this world far too soon, my Georgia colleagues sent a lovely floral basket to the funeral home. I was touched by their kindness, but I was also surprised that although wintertime, the bouquet was filled with various colorful spring flowers. As I bent low to smell their fragrance, I gasped. There were four fat peonies in the arrangement. It was a lovely coincidence, of course, which made the thoughtful gesture all the more meaningful.

This week marks the eighteenth anniversary of the move into our current home, one we lovingly built on an untamed piece of property we had accidentally discovered. We had no landscaping, and I readily admit to having a rather brown thumb, so when one of my students gave me a small bush as a housewarming gift, I wondered just how long I could keep it alive. I carefully removed it from the container and planted it in a space where I could watch it grow from the kitchen sink. Much to my surprise, it sprouted leaves throughout that first summer. When it became dormant during the winter, I feared that I had killed it, but a year later, it bloomed, beautiful saucer sized white flowers. Peonies! What a delightful surprise! From that moment on, I anticipated their appearance at springtime.

This has been an exceptionally long winter, especially since most of us have been on quarantine lockdown through much of it, staring out the window on those cold rainy days as we hoped for better times. We have anxiously waited for those warm temperatures to return, having missed the sun on our faces. Given the circumstances, that has made this spring even more special. And it is as though Mother Nature has taken pity on us, putting on quite a show as the earth reawakens from its seasonal slumber. My rose bushes are covered in crimson blossoms. The hostas have sprung from their shallow beds in various colors of green. Some mystery bushes in my backyard are covered in fragrant blooms which perfume the air. I expect a bumper crop of wild blackberries, based on the sheer number of thorny vines on the hillside. And once again, my peonies are blooming.

They stage their showy entrance just in time for my mother’s birthday on May 3, followed closely by Mother’s Day. And just as she ordered them up to mark the important moments in her life, I welcome them as we pause to reenter our altered world. Businesses are reopening; churches are once again welcoming their parishioners. We have even spotted a bear in our neighborhood, having woke from its long months of hibernation. The cycle of the seasons illustrates that life goes on, even in the most challenging of times. And through it all, we are still here, resilient, resolved, and optomistic. I have cut a few of the flowers and placed them in vases around the house. I need to be reminded that this moment is something to celebrate. For indeed, it is.

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