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A Legacy in Bloom

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My mother, c. 1935, in front of my grandmother’s peonies.

There are moments in life, especially as we move into middle age, that are bright lines between what was and what will be. My journey to my mother’s small Minnesota hometown, alone, to settle her sister’s affairs was one of those bright line experiences for me.

My aunt Lucy was born and died in the same house my grandfather built for his new bride in the early 20’s. When she moved back home after my grandmother died, Lucy inherited all the furnishings and she lived in it, virtually unchanged, for 25 years. So I wasn’t so much closing up my aunt’s house, as my grandparents’. The same pieces of furniture, still in the same places. The same dishes—even the same sink and stove I remember. So many memories, but beyond photographs and such, so little that I could, or cared, to bring home. But it was hard to let it all go, knowing I was the last relative who would ever enter the home again.

I was feeling wistful the afternoon I was to close up the house and fly home. I wandered the yard, remembering my grandmother’s beautiful flower garden that took up a wide swath of the center of the lawn. Autumn has already arrived in the north country, and leaves littered the garden bed, stuck among the dead stalks of faded perennials. And then it struck me. My memories weren’t held in the furniture or the china or even the house, they were held in the land, the lawn I turned cartwheels on and the garden I remember my grandmother tending with love. I found a shovel and divided decades-old peonies and iris, plants that were surely older than me, stuffed them in a plastic bag and brought them home.

Sunday afternoon, I transplanted those living links to my heritage into my own garden. Perhaps one day my own grandchild will divide them again, remembering me tending to them, and telling stories of the small town up north where those luscious blooms originated. 

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