Thursday, September 24, 2009

sweet peas


My mother and I were polar opposites in many ways. In the 70's when Astrology was being taken very seriously I had our charts done on several separate occasions by practitioners who were well versed in Dane Rudyar's methods and learned then how essentially opposite we were. I don't know if any of this means anything to you but it turned out my mother had four signs in Taurus, all in the first house while I have five signs in Scorpio, also all in the first house. Essentially, that meant someone very attached to the earth as the mother of someone born to a fluid environment. We loved one another deeply but were bound by our very natures to suffer through the differences.

The only man my mother truly loved, other than her brothers, was her father. As a late 19th century man, Grandad was a stone mason in the north country of England who built miles of the famous dry walls and dams. He was also a gardener. He and my grandmother had ten children with my mother being the first girl born after three brothers. My grandmother ran a village shop, post office and pub all at the same time. Naturally, as they grew up the children were expected to help. Grandad took flowers to the local church every Sunday morning and for all the assorted religious celebrations like weddings, christenings and funerals but never set foot in a church if he could help it. His adage was that he found more holiness under God's sky than he did in church but that he understood the needs of others.

When my parents married shortly before WWII Grandad carefully arranged a big bouquet of sweet peas as her wedding flowers. The south of England was far away from the north in those days and my mother had already lived there for seven years in St. Alban's where she'd been the lady's maid and companion to a pair of very wealthy sisters who'd lost their fiance's in WWI. My dad had never lived in the south but since that's where the work was in the huge shipyards of South Hampton, that's where they went. The war came. My dad joined the navy and my mother worked in a munitions factory. They ended up separated for most of the next six years. Like many more, I was born the year after the war ended and I turned out to be a weak and sickly child. The doctors advised my parents to leave England for a drier climate. I think they had in mind Australia or the southwest of the United States but instead they moved to southern Ontario in Canada.

By then my dad was in his 40's, mam nearly 10 years younger and both of them had to work if they were to afford a house, a car, a garden and plane fare back to England for family visits. It took five years. My mother always tried to grow sweet peas in her garden but the hot dry summers always saw them wither and die. I grew up and went to England and Europe for two years and when I returned to North America there were always places other than Toronto that seemed more interesting as places to live and explore. Both our letter writing skills grew and there were many visits but always from a distance, so the visits were intense.

Jerry and I were with her when she died one winter afternoon a few years ago. When I returned to work on a Monday morning in February there was a crystal vase filled with sweet peas on my desk. Whether from pain or deep happiness, certainly both if truth were told, I wept.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

My family is English too, and my mum had sweet peas for her wedding bouquet. It is popular there and I still love and grow them.

I can understand your love for them; and thank you for sharing your heartfelt family story.

Seraphine said...

i love the rememberances you have of your mother. those early 20th century people had harder lives than those of us born afterwards.
sweet peas are so pretty. they seem so simple and delicate compared to, say, roses or lilies. they sound perfectly suited to your mom.

Randal Graves said...

Letter writing, distances traveled, how times have changed in, relatively speaking, such a short while.

Lisa said...

This was so touching. You know, back in my gardening days, when I could get the sweet peas to take hold, grow and bloom, I was elated and felt so rewarded. They were by far the most delightful part of our Illinois garden to me.

Mary Ellen said...

What an incredibly touching story, Susan. You're amazing.

I'm very close to my mom, who now lives very close to me. I can't tell you how much I dread losing her one day, especially since my dad has been gone for so long (he wasn't much older than I am now when he passed).

Having the memory of the sweet peas...what a wonderful gift.

marja-leena said...

Lovely, touching story, thank you! Isn't it amazing how certain flowers evoke certain people and memories? I love sweet peas, my mother always had them in her garden. I can't seem to grow them here for I don't have the right spot but a dear friend always shared hers. Lilacs and lily-of-the-valley always take me back to my childhood in Winnipeg.

susan said...

Sweet peas only grow under special conditions and never last long so they're not a popular cut flower. The strange thing about those February sweet peas was that none of the major florists in Portland had them. Nobody besides my mother and I knew their significance for her.

anon - Thank you for your visit and kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

sera - In truth my mother and I had a pretty tempestuous relationship and she wasn't a sweet English rose either. The cool thing was that we really loved each other.

randal - It's true - now even the post office is ready to go out of business.

lisa - It's neat to know you were able to grow them in Chicago. You must have had good soil and a semi-shaded spot. They have the most incredible fragrance, don't they?

nunly - I'm very glad you enjoyed it since it wasn't a particularly easy one to tell. Mother and daughter relationships are the most intense of all.

marja-leena - Certain flowers are indeed very evocative. After my son was born a dear friend filled my room with lilacs when I was sleeping. They've been special to me ever since. Lilies of the valley and forget-me-nots reminds me of the lake in front of my childhood home.

Seraphine said...

i rather gathered from your earth/water comment about your mother that you had some differences.
i think most families are like that. i hear similar things over and over about mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters.
i always wanted to have a perfect tv family, but i didn't have any say in the matter.
loving each other is the glue that holds mother/daughters together.

Spadoman said...

Thank you so much for sharing this part of your life in such a sweet way. I enjoyed reading it. I also still enjoy writing letters, with pen and paper. Not too much call for that these days.

Peace.

susan said...

sera - Apologies for missing subtlety :-) Mothers do have tendency to claim ownership right at the moment we've concluded our self ownership.

spadoman - I too still have a number of people I communicate with by mail. It's so much more personal and satisfying.

The Crow said...

Thank you for sharing your mother with us. How cool about the sweet peas on your desk. Do you know where they came from?

:)

lindsaylobe said...

A lovely story about your mother and your early life. As you know we recently visited the south of England and I have very fond memories of the scenery – those dry walls and the countryside in general including the people from previous work related visits.My father also enjoyed his R& R over there in between bombing missions with the RAF during WW 2.
Interesting to read about your very industrious grandparents – have you traced back your family tree? Your parents being separated for 6 years during the War now seem unimaginable doesn’t it?
Like yourself in my early years only I was also a sickly child – constantly getting every imaginable disease - including polio which miraculously left me with no ill effects - but my favouite seemed to be constant bouts of tonsillitis. I remember the sweet peas growing below the steps to our house.

Best wishes

Gary said...

Oh Susan.

susan said...

the crow - I'm glad you enjoyed it and the answer to your question is both yes and no. Yes, because i know who carried them in. No, because even he didn't know how they happened to be where he found them or why he chose them.

lindsay - I'm glad to know the polio left you with no ill effects. You were very lucky. Polio in children and breast cancer in women were rampant when I was young. The Salk vaccines were a true medical miracle at the time.

I'm well aware of my family tree - in fact on my mother's side we're poor relations of the Astors and the Mitfords. There are some stories about them too I may get around to one day.

gary - Thanks.

okjimm said...

I don't know how I missed this.

this is very nice.

I remember when my dad died... there were tubes sticking out all over the place. He was in bad shape.

He took a pad of paper and scrawled a note asking me to tell him a joke.

I did.

Jokes are my sweet peas.

susan said...

okjimm - Sweet peas and laughter soften the pains of losing those we love.