Mother's Tulips

by Maribeth O'Donnell from Charters Settlement, NB
May 31, 14

My mother grew up poor on a family farm. They had a cow, a team of work-horses, a handful of chickens, fields and wildflowers. She told us stories of picking small, pink wildflowers for the graves of siblings who died in infancy. 

While she didn’t have much at home, she was born with an adventurous spirit. By the time she was 16, the Second World War had begun and she had begun her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse. Her siblings were among her first students.

After the war she headed out on her own to Toronto and then Chicago, to pursue work as a missionary. Somewhere along the line she changed her mind and returned to New Brunswick and teaching: Grand Manan, Deer Island, Carroll’s Crossing, anywhere there was a job that allowed her to travel, to roam and to feel free.

She married, at 33, to my father, a man she had met when she was 21. He had taken her for a ride on the handlebars of his bicycle.

When I was born my parents moved into the house that would become their permanent home. My father, an avid vegetable gardener and lover of trees, began landscaping. He planted trees of all kinds around the yard; sumac, oak, maple. He put the oak in the front yard and my mother planted tulips around its base. The tulips bloomed a bright yellow that first spring and never bloomed again.

The oak tree, however, exploded. 

It took over the front yard. Its branches became a refuge for squirrels and robins’ nests. Year after year that oak tree grew. The tulips would come up each year but never bloomed. 

The four of us also grew, left home and began families of our own. 

Retirement allowed my mother’s interest and love of flowers to grow and she planted various flowerbeds around the house – daises, brown-eyed susans, lilies, crocuses, but never tulips again.

And then, very suddenly, we realized my mother was ill. Within three weeks of recognizing something was wrong we were gathering for her funeral. It was unreal to us. We were numb.

This woman who, for so long, had given us strength, direction and the will to move forward was gone. 

It paralyzed us, all of us, especially my father, her husband of nearly 50 years. 

It was a difficult winter, but eventually spring did come. As usual, the tulip leaves under the grand oak came up. But then, to our utter disbelief, they budded. And then they bloomed, bright, yellow, giant tulips stretching to the sky. Thirty-five years after their first and last bloom, they bloomed again!
We have seen five springs since my mother’s death. Each of those springs my mother’s tulips have bloomed. None of us really understand it but we have all embraced it. 

As always, our mom has gone ahead, in search of adventure. One day we’ll catch up with her again. She was just letting us know she is doing just fine.