The Narrative of the Rose in My Life

Author: Meera, September 23, 2013


Shropshire Lad , a David Austen rose we grow on the Henny Penny Farmette

Shropshire Lad, a David Austen rose grown along the back fence on the Henny Penny Farmette


If you could be any flower, which one would you be? My choice would be a rose–not only for its exquisite beauty, intense color, and sweet scent but for its incredible ability to regenerate and for its symbolism in love, war, beauty, and politics–universal experiences that individually or collectively affects our lives . . . or, for the purpose of this musing, my life.


It might have been the Chinese who first cultivated the rose, nearly 5,000 years ago, but there is fossil evidence that the wild rose is far older–at least 35 million years old. Now that’s what I call “staying power.” The rose is a beautiful species, some might say delicate, but I wouldn’t be one of them. The rose regenerates, endures, and thrives. I want to be like that–always–if not in body, at least in spirit.



My fondness for roses surely began when I was a small child living on a farm where roses formed wild hedges or spilled over covered bridges on lovely and lonely dirt roads in rural Missouri that led to farms and country cemeteries and fishing holes.



Every year in May, my Scots-Irish grandmother and mother would  cut branches of roses to put into glass canning jars of water, festooned in ribbon or pieces of quilting gingham. With me in hand, they would carry the rose bouquets to graves throughout the county where their loved ones were buried. I watched, not entirely understanding why everyone wasn’t buried in the same patch of ground and whether or not the spirits of the dead would enjoy the roses.



yellow rose lg em




My junior prom was all about yellow roses. The pattern covered the gown my mother and her new husband could scarcely afford and filled the corsage my date brought . . . along with a promise that he would be return and take me to the dance. He didn’t. As it turns out, he took someone else, apparently believing I would be satisfied with roses.



Lady Banks rose lg em



Although I still associate the yellow rose with that disappointment, I am grateful that my love for them has endured (real love always does) while my infatuation with that jerk quickly ended.



While I studied the War of the Roses in my world history book, linkage between the rose and politics came about for me at a garden party years ago for California’s lieutenant governor at the home of a wealthy patron in Hillsborough. As I recall, I was more interested in the variety of roses growing on that vast estate than what was being said in threads of conversations going on around me.




pink rose lg em



Pink roses on the front porch next to my bedroom were bursting into bloom the spring my brother left for Vietnam, dressed proudly in his marine uniform. The sweet spice-laden scent of their blossoms wafted into my room each night as I said prayers for his safe return.



Years later after being wounded and shipped home, he and his wife attended my wedding. The dinner table was lavishly adorned with red roses, green fern leaves, and white baby’s breath in vases next to fine china and crystal stem flutes of celebratory champagne. My dress of cream-colored satin and my husband’s  ivory-colored silk vest under his dark suit created the perfect foil for the red roses, proclaiming our romantic, passionate, undying love for each other.



Climbing Don Juan bears prolific blooms throughout the growing season

Climbing Don Juan bears prolific blooms throughout the growing season



Hours before my husband died, I massaged his weary legs with rose-geranium oil and prayed for strength. His passing came three weeks after Valentine’s Day. I sprinkled rose petals everywhere in the house in remembrance of his life that had, like the tall, strong canes of a climber, had so intimately intertwined with mine.



"Honor" is a hybrid tea  rose blooms from spring to fall

The hybrid tea rose “Honor” blooms from spring to fall



I chose Honor, a near-perfect white rose, to plant in remembrance of him, knowing that its pristine blooms and abundant leaves were sustained by roots hidden away in the bosom of the earth. The re-emergence of that rose always reminds me that one’s spirit is nourished by that which is seen and unseen and that the soul is eternal.



After starting life anew on the Henny Penny Farmette, I planted two entire rose gardens and tucked in other rose bushes, including some fifty-year-old wild roses, dug from a friend’s ancestral home.



Strong canes with eye buds can be dipped in rooting hormone and put into the ground to grow a new bush

Strong canes with eye buds can be dipped in rooting hormone and put into the ground to grow a new bush



In one area of the farmette, I’ve planted a single row of white roses commemorating the military service of my great grandfather (who fought the decisive Battle of Pea Ridge in the Civil War), my grandfather (whose wounds in Great War in Europe resulted in his death), my father-in-law who served in the Merchant Marines and World War II (where his ship the Exodus, a.k.a. President Warfield, ran the British blockade of Palestine to rescue 4,500 Jewish refugees), and my son’s father, who would have served our nation had it not been for the heart condition that resulted in his early death.



Some roses I’ve planted, especially those that I’ve started from canes clipped or grafted from other people’s plants, remind me of new life and new beginnings. Somehow, these clippings survive and grow into healthy bushes of roses in many different colors. These roses give me immense pleasure, whether in the garden or in vases in my cottage.




The range of colors for roses is vast; pictured here is a red-gold variety

The range of colors for roses is vast; pictured here is a red-gold variety



Love and death, wars, and politics will continue in their seemingly endless cycles. Long after I’m gone, members of my family, their children, and grandchildren may forget why certain bushes were planted and in whose names. But perhaps they will remember me as a woman for whom roses symbolized important events in the narrative thread of her life and the plants themselves nourished her spirit.



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