A Hundred Gourds 3:2 March 2014

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by Mary Ahearn - USA


On a rain-dark afternoon, he tells me about his childhood home. Raised by his grandmother and mother, both widows, both no stranger to loss and regret, he remembers how in the summer, there was the flower bed so lovingly tended with heliotrope, rich purple, a bee's delight, larkspur, pinks, and peonies; always peonies, deep maroon red and white. Later, the sweet autumn clematis with the perfume of vanilla and honey climbed the latticed arbor to shade the back door that led into the kitchen.

marriage bed
all that's left
flowers carved in wood

Inside the narrow three-story brick house, the rooms were cool, dark, and fragrant with beeswax and potpourri. Tall shuttered windows kept out the dusty heat of the street and the gossip of that small river town.

"The pantry! How you would have loved it," he smiles. Cakes, sweets, coffee, tea, and family secrets were kept there, stored neatly with care by this grandmother who I see in the old photographs. She stands straight-backed, stern, her white hair pulled back in a neat bun; her face is serious, her mouth firm. Next to her in each photo is a sweet faced boy, later a handsome young man. Together they stand in that back garden, year after year, my great grandmother and my father.

fading photographs
studied over and over
attar of rose

I've driven by that house many times, feeling its pull, and what it may have meant to a lonely boy so many years ago. I can smell the old-fashioned flowers, hear the bees hum in the morning sun just before I step into that shadowed doorway to meet my great grandmother whose name I was given.

scent of heliotrope—
the back road
to the cemetery

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