I love a good story. There’s nothing better than curling up in my favorite/hated chair with Harley, my seven-pound Shih Tzu, who I fear is secretly plotting my demise, and reading a book for hours on end. I lose track of time when I get lost in a new world. Laundry and errands lose importance when a special protagonist captures my attention. However, not all great tales come from pages alone. One of the best storytellers is right outside my window. It’s Mother Nature, the ultimate storyteller. I both adore and envy her adept ability to transport me to the most breathtaking places. She’s the master of hitting all five senses. For me, her finest work comes from her dirt with her most exquisite creations, flowers. I’ve never run across one that I didn’t immediately fall in love with. So important to me, they are heavily featured in my novel, Where The Grass Grows Blue.
My earliest memory involves a simple spray of daisies in an amber-spotted vase. I was four-years-old and in the hospital after surgery. When I finally rejoined the world of consciousness after coming out of anesthesia, a jolly gathering of white and yellow blooms greeted me, filling my groggy eyes with delight. Suddenly, the pain in my body and the fright of an unfamiliar space lessened. For hours, I sat in my oversized hospital bed, cradling my tiny bouquet in my arms. After that first encounter, my world would never be the same again. I’d met a friend, who’d be there with me for every important step of my life.
For my second blog post, I’ve decided it must be dedicated to flowers and the marvelous memories they’ve bequeathed me. Specifically, the ones from my childhood. Sometimes these underappreciated blooms are missed, overlooked, or downright hated because they can be deemed as nuisances to modern life because most are considered weeds. But for me, I appreciate them in spite of their “problems”.
Before we start, I have a confession to make. Though I adore flowers, I’m quite fearful of nature in general. I know, it makes no sense. I grew up in Kentucky on a farm. How could I be scared of the great outdoors? However, in the south, where I live, it’s home to the most terrifying creatures. Snakes in particular are abundant here, and they’re my kryptonite. I’m so terrified of them, I once jumped off my Huffy bike at full speed on our little country, gravel road just to avoid one. A bloody elbow and rocks in my knee were worth not having to “drive” past IT. I even refused to travel to Costa Rica last year with my family after researching the types of snakes that live there. FYI, it’s home to the most concentrated number of venomous snakes per acre in the world. My feet stayed firmly planted on U.S. soil.
But snakes are only one obstacle for me and my love affair with flowers. Did I mention I also have a phobia of stinging insects too? I know, they come hand in hand with my beloved flowers. You can’t have one without the other, but any time I suspect a flying creature has the ability to inject me with venom, I run for the hills. It’s positively embarrassing for my husband when we’re sitting at soccer games and one flies by me. However, he’s oblivious to the danger they pose. Unlike him, I have a long and painful history to back me up.
My first sting was compliments of a fuzzy bumble bee while innocently picking flowers. At five years old, I cried out in such pain that you would have thought one of my limbs had been cut off. Thankfully, my Granny Gibbs was there to save me. Grabbing one of my grandaddy’s cigarettes, she put the tobacco in her mouth, mixing it with her saliva, and slabbed the cool, nicotine tonic onto my freckled skin. An unpleasant visual, I know, but it worked. After that day, if I spotted those yellow and black stripes barreling towards me, I panicked. Though docile creatures for the most part, if a bumble bee gets stuck in your 1980’s teased bangs with mounds of Aqua Net holding your unfortunate hair-do together, it will turn into a stinging machine. Yes, that happened to me too.
My next painful sting came from honeybees when they chose my childhood home in Kentucky to build a hive. In another bizarre, yet true story, they commandeered the chimney next to my bedroom. For months, I would find stray bees buzzing around my closet. It was so bad, I had to wear shoes at all times while walking around in my room because my orange and mustard shag carpet was too thick for me to spot them, providing them with great camouflage. Though they only attack as a last resort, it’ll bring a tear to your eye if they choose to give up their lives to teach you a lesson. Still, I will forgive them for all the pain they’ve caused me because they essentially sustain our fragile ecosystem. Plus, it takes TWELVE honeybees an entire lifetime to make one teaspoon of honey. That’s a lot of energy for our pleasure and taste buds.
However, nothing compares to the viciousness of the assassin in the sky, the yellowjacket. My own Voldemort. I don’t dare speak of one out loud for fear of invoking a swarm of them. I’m still processing what happened to me as a child when one stung my lip in K-Mart. I can’t go into details because it haunts me.
So, as you can see, I’m scared of just about everything once I leave the safe confines of my front door. However, even my irrational fears can’t hold me back from my true loves. I will endure the prospect of running into one of my slithering or buzzing antagonists head on just to get a few quiet moments with them. And guess what? Flowers of any kind are worth a little pain and fright.
So let’s start with my wild friends. The ones that are free, entertained me for hours as a child, and still make me long for my Old Kentucky Home.
Honeysuckle - Is there any sweeter perfume in the world than when a fence row of honeysuckles mixes with summer’s humid air? It’s an intoxicating aroma. If I get the slightest whiff of the ambrosial blooms today, I’m transformed into a little girl again. As a child, I would spend countless Saturday afternoons with my sister, Angela, and brother, Todd, on our farm in Holland in search of the perfect row that had somehow slipped past my grandfather’s farming eyes and pesticides. Apparently, honeysuckle bushes will destroy a fence. As much as the Gibbs children fancied them, the cows’ safety came first. We’d pluck hundreds of “safe” blossoms in one setting, just for the magical opportunity to allow the flower’s tiny nectar, no more than a pin drop, to tickle our tongues. The honeysuckle is a symbol of pure happiness. I couldn’t agree more.
Violets - The deep amethyst blooms covering yards in the spring are nature’s gift of color in the vastness of Kelly green. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but violets symbolize dreams, remembrance, and determination. But for me, they provided a perfect opportunity to compete against my siblings on a lazy spring day with “Rooster Fights.” No, not the inhumane animal blood sport, but an Appalachian game that my granddaddy taught us. All you have to do is pick the violet with the most durable bloom. The harder to pluck from the ground, the better your chances are at winning. Simply interlock the “heads” of two stems and pull. Whichever player’s bloom is still intact is the victor.
When writing this post, I asked some of my childhood friends from Kentucky if they played a game involving the decapitation of weeds. Of course, they thought I was nuts. However, when I asked my sister, she immediately knew what I was talking about. Apparently, Rooster Fights were all the rage in Holland, Kentucky. If you spot a violet this spring, don’t pass up this unique treasure and pleasure. Or the chance to dominate a foe with botany.
Tobacco Flowers - Let me preface by saying that I’m not particularly fond of tobacco products and I hate the smell of any type of smoke. However, there’s nothing prettier than a field in early summer when the plant sprouts its pinkish, star-shaped blooms. For farmers, it’s a nuisance that must be dealt with swiftly by cutting it in order to save the leaves since all the plant’s energy will go to the flower. Topping tobacco was a dreaded chore for my family, but because of my size and the fact that you shouldn’t give a small child a knife, I was spared from the backbreaking work under the unforgiving June sun. I could just sit back on our front porch and watch in awe for those few precious days when the field in front of our house turned into the most enchanting hue of blush as far as the eye could see. Though I didn’t find any hidden meanings for the plant in my research, for me as a child, it symbolized Christmas because it was a large chunk of our family’s yearly income. Plus, it did save me from an agonizing bumble bee sting once.
Dandelions - The bane of any person who prides themselves on having a manicured lawn. But for me, as a child, I thought there was nothing prettier than the humble yellow blooms that popped up each spring. Not only were they beautiful to look at, they provided me with the perfect “toppings” for my mud pies that I spent hours working on. But as much fun as it was to decorate with, the billowy heads that came a few weeks later were my favorite part of the plant’s life cycle. Blowing the feathery white seeds into the air gave me such joy. I would imagine they were my secret dreams being launched into the world. Unfortunately, all I was accomplishing was spreading more dandelions to sprout up in my grandparents’ yard, causing an overpopulation of the weeds, much to my granddaddy’s chagrin. To this day, however, I still can't pass one up. Pick one the next time you stumble across the fluffy blooms, close your eyes and make a wish. I guarantee a little part of you will turn back into a child again. Even if it’s fleeting, it will brighten your day.
Fun fact: Dandelions are edible and an excellent source of vitamins. Almost all parts of this plant can be eaten. I used to blend them into my juices back before I had a wicked kidney stone. For the record, it wasn’t the dandelions’ fault but rather an overabundance of spinach. I’ve warned you.
Dutch clover - It grows in bundles around lawns and pastures. I adore this white flower with touches of pink. As a child, it also provided me with beautiful materials to work with. I could spend an entire afternoon sitting in a patch of them, turning them into jewelry. By simply knotting the blooms together, I could make crowns, necklaces, even earrings. Cartier had nothing on my natural creations. Now as an adult, I still enjoy them. When my children were little (before they outgrew me, which unfortunately meant third grade), whenever I came across a field of those blooms I would start picking and tying. It’s a simple tradition worth passing down to the next generation. Clover symbolizes joy, happiness, and the promise of true love. Those words encapsulate my feelings for this flower perfectly.
Wild Buttercups - Okay, okay. I know the “proper” name is daffodil, but where I come from, we call them buttercups. My mind will never be changed on this matter. My husband’s northern family has tried in vain for years to get me to change my view on this (and the pronunciation of peonies), but I stand firm in my beliefs.
Is there anything on earth more cheerful and inviting than this flower that thrives on roadsides, wooded areas, and around abandoned houses? They are spring’s most picturesque hint that warmer weather is on its way. As a child, nothing gave me more pleasure than gathering as many trumpet blooms as my tiny arms could carry to make a bouquet for my mother. Yellow was her favorite color, and these special flowers were my gift to her each March. Also, if you’ve never “dyed” a buttercup, you’re missing out. Simply mix a couple of drops of your favorite food coloring into the water, leave it overnight, and the next morning, those petals will transform into a magnificent new shade. It’s like coloring Easter eggs. Buttercups symbolize revival, rebirth, and hope. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to them.
Honorable mention: Queen Anne’s Lace, Daisy Fleabane, Goldenrod. All are beautiful and all harbor insects that will make your life miserable. It’s best to inspect them closely before bringing these flowers into your home or anywhere near your skin.
As you can see, flowers have been a huge part of my life, and they have shaped me. Certainly, they’ve inspired me. Without flowers, would I have become a writer?
What are your favorite flowers? Do you have a special memory that comes to mind? Share it with me in the comments section below. Remember, I love a good story.
Until next time…