My mom was a walking conundrum. I learned to work around her moods, but one wacky episode popped to mind this morning – prompted by an unassuming and lovely bloom. A singularly determined late summer stunner nestled behind our garage. This vibrant hollyhock – pictured above.
Its brethren have long since pooped out but this guy? He’s still got stage presence, demanding attention. So, I give it. And as I’m looking him over, wondering why I’ve assigned male pronouns to a flower 😊 I realize why I dislike hollyhocks. In one unsettling wave, I remember.
I don’t recall the year, but sister (Lisa) and I were old enough to walk to the Rite Aid drugstore to do a little shopping for Mother’s Day. We bought a bouquet of mixed flowers and a fresh box of chocolate covered cherries. (Lisa and I sometimes wondered what “fresh” candy was – nothing was dated in those days and we guessed it just meant it was better than the stash mom not-so-secretly-hid in her nightstand.)
We felt triumphant as we woke mom with her gifts, along with a cup of black coffee and her cigarettes. Yeah for us! Almost. Funny how you can block a slice of unpleasantry for decades, isn’t it? I shelved this story in the way, way back – at least until the show-stopper hollyhock said hello earlier today.
Mom’s reaction to her Mother’s Day gifts? She looked at the bouquet of flowers, prominently showcasing both hollyhocks and gladiolas (I didn’t know their names then, but I learned…) and tossed them on the floor with an angry, “FUNERAL flowers? FUNERAL flowers? It’s Mother’s Day! I hate them” followed by a testy grab of the candy and a more softly muttered… ‘But these are okay”.
Lisa, given her sweetness and emotional vulnerability was a puddle in an instant. I tended to her first – trying to smooth over and re-contextualize the hurt. Usually this: Mom didn’t mean it or Mom’s just tired followed by It’s not your fault. Distracting Lisa by nudging her along to another activity also helped. That day we made pancakes. Food as the solution – again. Sigh.
Just the same, like other nasty bits, for my own sanity, I shut the door to the memory – quick as I could. Years later, I’m amazed that these scenes are still powerful enough to swim into everyday life. Life with mom wasn’t always a train wreck…but when it was, it was.
My take-away? NOW I know why I’ve never liked the hollyhocks 😉 that hubby’s been nursing back to health in our yard. I’ve been indifferent to them – never cutting them and plopping them in a vase. I’m still not sure about mom’s crazy claim that hollyhocks (and gladiolas) are ‘funeral flowers’. Anyone who’s more in the know can fill me in on that.
Oh – and why the sharing? No, no — not because it’s sad. Quite the contrary. For me, it’s a proof-positive example that remembering, while unpleasant, can breed resilience, if you dare to let it.
Thanks for reading. The boisterous and bold Mr. Hollyhock says hello.