I sit upon a stray pot, tarnished and coated in a fine layer of dust. “Give me a flower Momma,” I say, my voice sweet and innocent, a toddler’s.
In response, she bends over the blushing blue hydrangeas and plucks a bloom from its stem. As she turns to me her dark chestnut hair swings over her shoulder, she pushes it away.
“Here,” she says, “a flower for my little flower.” As she speaks, a kind smile spreads across her face.
I take the flower in my hand and pick the petals one by one. “I’ll make a wish,” I say and Momma laughs, continuing her work; pruning and planting a lush garden. Watching her, I scoop up the discarded and wilting petals and push them into the ground. “I’m helping momma,” I announce, clearly proud of my accomplishments, “look.”
Momma glances over and smiles her happy smile. “Good job Lily,” she praises me.
I continue to work by her side, copying her out of admiration. I pull small flowers from the ground and pick more roses than I can carry. Momma never scolds me for messing up her work, only laughs at my antics.
When I catch her watchful gaze I laugh a big belly laugh and run away. She follows after me, only to catch me and attack with tickles.
“Stop!” I squeal, both of us laughing and dancing round the garden.
A few years over, I find myself in the garden again. Beside me is Momma, her once straight brown hair now concealing hints of gray. I still follow after her, but stay a little farther behind, trying desperately to show off my new found independence by padding down the piled soil around a row of daisy-faced sunflowers. She watches from the other side, always making sure I’m okay.
Soon, she moves on towards several sturdy plants, bearing plump red berries and lengthy string beans. “Come on Lily,” she calls.
I run to her, eager to show off my berry picking prowess; and I do just that. I stomp through the tight aisles of plants, brushing away the thick foliage. Once I’m deep within the greenery I stuff my basket with the sweet fruits, each packed with a blood-red syrup. Every now and then, I shove a handful of the berries into my mouth, their sugar-sweet juice running down my chin.
After a while, both the basket and I have had our fill and I begin to crawl back through the leaves. When I poke my head out, Momma and I both laugh over my berry juice beard. I wipe it from my chin with now sticky hands. We laugh harder.
I bear the dripping juice like a sword and chase Momma through the garden. We whip round the turns and bends of the cobblestone path, gleeful and amused. In front of me, Momma falls into the soft grass, laughing. I jump onto her and nearly cover her in the sticky mess that is now my hands. But before I can rub the juice against her soft knit tee, Momma insists I wash it away.
She showers my hands with the hose’s warm water while I dance in the spray. The sun beats down on me as I sway through the drizzle. Momma joins too but is careful not to get wet. Jumping over the water I notice a slight dip in temperature from the sun-warmed hose water; to the colder, fresh tap water. As it cools more, I run to Momma who wraps me in a towel and lifts me off my feet.
Several winters pass before I return to the garden with Momma. We sit side by side on a wrought iron bench sucking Fourth-of-July Popsicles. It is hardly June, but the pops still melt quickly under the summer sun. I bite the end of my blue and white pop off the stick and fling it towards the trash. It hits the edge of the metal bin with a clammer but drops down into the bag. Momma hands me hers and I do the same.
Then, like clockwork, we stand and head towards the rows of flourishing tulips and roses. Their subtle aroma drifts past as I kneel at their roots, but this year Momma doesn’t join me in the dirt. She sits behind me in a fold-away lawn chair, watching me tend to the garden. I don’t blame her. With the baby on its way, her once skinny waistline bulges with the presence of her second daughter; my sister.
I lean over the delicate rose blooms and provide water to their soil. “Is this right?” I call back to Momma whose kind gaze is watching over me as always.
“Doing great honey,” she replies, without a hint of sarcasm in her voice. We both smile as I continue to work, picking the dried leaves of winter from the flourishing, cotton-candy-blue hydrangeas.
The next time we visit the garden, I am escorted by my sister, now three-year-old Aurora; who makes sure she is the first through the gate, singing, and dancing. I ignore the noise and turn to Momma, we both laugh.
The three of us lay side by side in the flower beds, and this time it is Aurora who begs Momma for a flower. When she asks, Momma and I both compete to grab one for her, then fall back laughing.
“I want a flower!” she protests.
With this, Momma stifles a laugh and picks her a soft pink tulip. Satisfied, Aurora takes the bloom and runs out through the garden, holding it above her head like a paper plane.
Reluctantly, we both follow her down the path, until Momma lifts her up and ‘flies’ her back to the flower beds. When Momma finally sets Aurora back down, we are all out of breath.
“Again!” Aurora insists, but Momma and I return to the garden. Soon I glance over to find Aurora pouting in the shrubbery.
“Fine,” I say and lift her onto my shoulders as she cheers.
I race round the garden with her over my head, giggling gleefully. I loop round the long path twice, Aurora flying her tulip through the garden. When I return to Momma, Aurora is asleep in my arms. Her soft, small hand grasping my fingers. Momma looks down at Aurora, then up to me and smiles.
I haven’t returned to the garden since that day, many years ago, but from my place in the spotlight, hands intertwined with my soon-to-be husband’s, I recognize the roses my mother is holding. They’re from the garden. Our garden.