Tulips Part One - Springs of Yore

Occasionally someone will ask me what is my favorite flower. I used to be uncomfortable with that and say I did not have a favorite. It was too much like asking me which was my favorite child – there is no such thing! Before my gardening days when our children were small and still sat with me in church, I remember the feeling, during those rare relatively quiet, relaxing minutes, that I was surrounded by flowers, they were my flowers. I am not sure what this tie-in is between flowers and my children. Maybe it is that I love them all.

Then over the years, memories surfaced from time to time, and finally I knew which flowers I delight in the most. And, wouldn’t you know: It is one that is the most difficult for me to plant! More about that another time, but for now I want to share some background with you that will help you to understand.

From the time I was five years old until I was twenty, I was plagued with a terrible skin rash called eczema. It was considered an allergy, and one that I inherited from my red-haired father who suffered of it as an infant. No one knew what caused it and there were only guesses as to what I should avoid eating to try to prevent the cause. Our local family doctor referred me to a dermatologist in Memphis, Tennessee, a hundred miles away. I will not bore you with the details of the disease or its treatment, but it did flare up every spring causing my parents to have to take me on that long trip to the skin specialist – as we called him. Unable to bend my knees, my father would lift me in and out of the car.

During World War II there was gasoline rationing; citizens were issued a limited number of ration cards, and the speed limits were lowered to 35 miles an hour in an effort to make a gallon stretch over more miles. One hundred plus miles at 35 miles an hour, for a small child, translates into “an eternity” of being trapped in a car – and that was just one direction! We had to do it again coming home!

Once there, the only thing to entertain me while we waited for our turn to see the doctor was: watching the receptionist type (which fascinated me), and seeing the mail fall occasionally down the clear, glass fronted, mail drop out in the corridor of the sky-scraper building as I walked about with the restlessness of a child in discomfort. I loved looking out the window and seeing the treetops and rooftops as far as the eye could see, but that got old; and I greatly disliked the way the building smelled – a clean, medicinal smell, and the way people stared at me and my exposed, weeping, red lesions. Children wouldn’t play with me; I might as well have had leprosy, but most of the time, I was the only child there.

Thinking back through those years, I wonder how my parents were able to get enough gasoline ration cards to make the trips. I’m sure my grandparents, and other family members who drove very little, contributed some of their cards.

And, still thinking back, I recognize many things my parents did to distract me, so to make the trip more enjoyable for us all. Some of my fondest memories are the picnic lunches my mother packed for us to eat in Overton Park. However, the thing I want to mention here are spring flowers.

From the time we left home we were traveling south into deeper spring. All the way from home into Memphis my father was almost constantly telling me to look, as he pointed out lovely spring flowers. It was always the season during which the redbud trees, dogwood trees, spring bulbs, and early blossoming shrubs were in bloom. I do not know how far up our family tree, this love of plants and flowers goes, but it can be traced through the Mitchell line: from me, through my father, his mother, and his maternal grandmother. That is as far as I know.

Once there, Memphis was beautiful and in full bloom. Azaleas, camellias, the blossoming trees, bulbs, and numerous bedding plants in bloom enveloped the homes we drove past. City right-of-ways at every intersection, and along avenues, plus all the parks were planted with pansies, and thousands of spring bulbs of all kinds – and, OH, the tulips! How could one not learn to love them! Child that I was, I thought they looked like candy Easter eggs (while they were closed), and beautiful flowers when opened to the sunshine.

Yes, OH, the tulips! As tulips entered my life spring after spring, they became more noticed and recognized by the child until, today, I have to say: I feel a longtime relationship; they that lift my heart the most are the tulips; each and every one of the many - thousands - of species and cultivated varieties.

It isn’t easy to have tulips in the garden at Crocker Croft, but more about that another time.
= To Be Continued =

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