Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Roses in December

"God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December". J.M Barrie

He was "Uncle Zeb" to his friends and neighbors and "Papa" to his children and grandchildren. A good steward of his land, Papa lived as harmoniously as one man can with nature. Peanut farmers from miles around would come to hear his horticultural wisdom, much more valuable than any almanac. The sun was his taskmaster; he rose early before Sol could catch him aslumber, and went to bed with the last fingers of light still streaking across the low horizon. Its been said he could work magic with rain; sitting patiently on his front porch stoop silently coaxing angry clouds to loosen their tears upon his fields, then returning indoors when his vigilance was rewarded.

The Old Homeplace in 2003

He raised his family in the old homestead; no indoor plumbing or electricity. In the late 40's his son-in-law and the nephew built a new house for Papa and Mama just a half-mile or so from the old place. Mama moved up right away, the luxury of water at the easy turn of a faucet handle instead of a cranky handpump a most welcomed gift. Papa sat it out for three weeks, refusing to budge from the place he knew as home. Late one evening just about dark-thirty, Mama saw him slowly walking up the dirt lane, an ancient trunk filled with his few belongings hoisted on his shoulder and a look of stubborn pride in his face. Whether it was from loneliness, or the lack of hot supper, the old fella had moved to the offending new abode. Some things wouldn't change - Papa thought having a toilet indoors was heathen and unclean thus took his daily constitutionals in the outhouse by the mule barn.

In 1947, Papa planted a red rose bush just off the edge of the front porch, his one frivolous gardening concession. Like his peanuts and his orchard, it thrived in the sandy soil.

Papa and his roses in 1963

Years have passed and the clouds have no more magic; Stagg cemetery has grown with headstones and families are rejoined under the same loam that once provided their sustenance. The new place is now in as much disheaval as the old homestead; plaster falling from the ceiling, birds roosting in the top of an old lamp, and deer sleeping in the tall weeds of the once neatly mowed front lawn. An ancient pear tree still bears a few small fruits and the berry vines struggle through the briars. No Sleeping Beauty here, just the land's remembrance of its once more cultivated self.

A couple of weeks ago, Kman and I spied something bright red up near the front porch of the "new place". Gingerly, we made our way through the hip-high weeds and patches of poison oak. A lone rose blossom was bravely clinging to a spindly stalk, stretching towards the few rays of sun that found a way to shine through the overgrowth. Taking a sharpshooter from the back of the Expedition, Kman very gently dug up the rose bush, keeping as much of the dirt ball around the roots as he could. Driving back to Cowtown, we planted it in our backyard garden next to the antique fence railing on the upper terrace. With a little dose of Miracle Grow for Roses and a lot of kind words, we are hoping to keep this small memory of Kman's grandparents alive. Perhaps a tiny spark of that magical farming spirit remains deep within the tough fibers of the old rose and we will be successful in our transplant attempt, much as Mama was those many years ago with Papa.

When the blossoms come again, I will remember the hardscrabble life these people lived and the image of a late afternoon when Papa trudged the path to the new house with a trunk on his shoulder and a begrudged acceptance of change.