A man I wish you had known Admittedly, I nursed my precious gardenias; wasting even one of their alluring blooms was unthinkable. Unlike ordinary compacta and azaleas, my gardenias required attention, a little coaxing. But it was worth the effort; their smell was an unmatched gift of nature. I’d planted less than a dozen in the large garden area around my home I sold a few years ago.
Since moving into my second floor apartment surrounded by sidewalks and a parking lot, I’ve missed my gardenias. They were sweet as carefully cultivated relationships with friends I didn’t want to lose. Of course, when I had to sell my home and move downtown, I could not take them with me.
Since living here, there have been notable distractions, demands that have distanced me from simple pleasures like my gardenias. I suppose that’s why, when my Mom’s house was recently emptied and sold, I was jolted by the absolute loss of that hub it represented to our family. Very soon, unless I invited, I knew I would never return there again.
Perhaps I should have been deciding what to do with so many memories long ago. Unlike my mother, I haven’t accumulated them in a disarray of boxes and scrapbooks my children haven’t already explored. My brother-in-law has converted some to DVD’s; for that I’m thankful. The rest may fill an archival vault if we can agree on its proper location.
As I was on my vigorous morning walk, I thought about that as I veered from my standard path. Flowers planted by the city were still blooming on a cool almost October morning. To my pleasant surprise, I noticed a row of small bushes with
blooms turning brown that I hadn’t seen before; the area had been newly planted in early spring. I bent down. In front of me were half a dozen gardenias!
Without hesitating, I picked a fresh flower and tried to drain its smell. That was impossible; it lasted my entire walk. Then I gave it to someone else to enjoy. The next day, I looked at other areas that had been newly planted. More gardenias! Greeters from the city to my soul!
That’s what I thought of today, about how I might have missed them had I not gone a different way on an otherwise often trod path. But I found them and, indeed, was nourished by that finding. I promised myself I’d never miss them again; I’d tell others that gardenias had come to downtown. To me, they were as welcome as the geese that seem to have permanently returned to the river that splits our city.
I revel in seeing it everyday. Some days I rejoice in its beauty, a beauty I share with many others. In fact, I had planned to tell lots of people about the gardenias by taking pictures of them in their hiding places and showing them those images.
One person I had hoped to show them to was Walter, a favorite customer who seems like a member of our store family. Since he retired a few years ago, he has visited us regularly, usually before or after his dialysis.
About 6’4”, Walter sat in the same chair and talked about the folks we knew and a few things we didn’t. His bass voice and easy smile touched us all. Usually we joked and laughed, but never talked about the last days we knew would come.
We didn’t want them to.
In fact, we didn’t know how close they were. Walter didn’t tell us. He never came to us to tell us about sad news. Instead, he came with life and a willingness to banter with folks who hated to see him leave.
Early this morning, I received a call I didn’t expect but probably should have. Walter died at Duke University at 3:00 a.m.
Immediately, I turned to look at the chair we thought of as Walter’s. It was about where he had left it. I wasn’t sure I was ready to accept that he would never be there again. Although it was time, I’d never thought of saying goodbye to Walter. Now I didn’t have a choice.
How would my co-workers do that? How would I?
All day I’ve thought about that. Until now, I haven’t known. But now I do. With his family’s permission, I’ll find a sturdy gardenia and plant it in his yard. If they’ll let me, I’ll care for it as long as I am able to tend to its beautiful blooms.