My mother died last spring. It is difficult to say, but we were never really close after I left home to go to graduate school. I wanted her to call me more often but was never sure what I wanted to say, and I’m sure she wanted to call me but couldn’t find a way through to do it. I have some of her recipes now and a handful of notes she wrote to my children years ago, but there’s not much more now that she’s gone. But I will always remember my mother in the spring. She had a particular fondness for spring that I think said a lot about her eagerness to throw off winter sooner than everyone else.
My mother loved crocus shoots. No matter where we were, she would always point out the “green, growing things,” as she called them. It got to the point where I would look for patches of green through all the snow that piled up near our house in Michigan in late winter, hoping to catch a groundhog-like glimpse of something that promised a proximity to spring. My mother grew the daintiest white Lilies of the Valley in the back yard, next to my father’s spiky chives. They were the perfect pair.
Flowers meant something to my mother. She had loads of “Four O’Clocks,” twin rose bushes, one white and one red, and she loved flowering shrubs: Rose of Sharon, Forsythia, Lilacs. She bought dozens of tulips in Holland, Michigan and planted them in the front yard. For my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, I bought them a red bud tree, one of the most beautiful of the flowering trees that will survive Michigan winters. In the spring, that tree blooms with flowers that are caught somewhere between lavender and fuchsia. The small clutches of flowers are set off against the nearly black bark of the slender trees and they will always catch your attention when you drive by houses with red buds planted in the yard. There is a wonderful drive which we took on Sundays when I was little along the Red Bud Trail where you can watch these beautiful trees in bloom in groves along the river not too far from our house.
It’s funny now when I think about her, as I look for crocus and green, growing things. I never thought of my mother as an outdoors type. She grew up in a big city and even though she spent much more time in our small town than she lived in the city as a girl, I never associated her with gardens, yet now, as I think about her, I don’t think of alleys and concrete, I think of shrubs and flowers. There was something about the change of winter into spring that captivated her. She didn’t drive when I was really small, so maybe she looked forward to walking on clean sidewalks that weren’t icy-challenging or maybe she tired of the extra blankets and sweaters that we needed to stay warm. In my thoughts, I see her face now looking into the sunlight, waiting, watching for some sign that winter is finished and the gray skies are behind her.
My mother was 92 years old when she died. Our relationship was cluttered with sarcasm and disappointment scattered over the years much the same the way closets get when you don’t take the time to sort things out. But I will look for the crocus every spring and think of her. I can still smell her Lilies of the Valley and I will always look for green, growing things through the piles of snow.