Friday, February 03, 2006

Odd Ducks and Periwinkle

(Odd Ducks and Periwinkle is the third in my Odd Duck series. Read on to see Aunt Molly’s redemptive view of a troublesome, yet beautiful, weed.)

Stacy watched the man in the expensive suit enter the nursing home, her heart breaking over the dark circles under his eyes and the grim slit where his smile should be. She thought he'd be attractive if not for that. She turned back to watering the small entrance garden, remembering when her grandfather had stayed at Brook Meadows. The staff were so supportive. After he'd died, she offered her landscaping talents, a skill he had taught her—a hobby that had helped them to bond.

On this sunny day, spring had not only sprung, but it hopped all over the place, from garden to garden in every neighborhood. Stacy had worked on this front garden, pleased with her choice of color. Mauve, lavender, and plum interspersed among frosty blue Hostas as ground cover. She felt this palette would be a calming oasis as families visited their loved ones.

But she still pondered what to do with the back. A door lead to the side parking lot, with a sidewalk that cut right through a third of the lawn. She wanted to fork another walkway off of that sidewalk, providing a gentle stroll out to a gazebo, where residents and visitors could sit and chat, maybe meditate on God.

"Take care not to over-water, Miss Griffith." The familiar voice was weak with age but strong with conviction.

"I won't, Aunt Molly." She waved at the woman who had just exited the building. When she'd first met her, she assumed her to be a nursing home resident, but then realized she was much too healthy. Stacy had met the odd little woman at Volunteer Night. No last name, just Aunt Molly. She was a kindly old woman who volunteered her time at the nursing home, reading, writing letters, offering her warm friendship to those who were lonely within the sterile walls.

The tiny woman was a throw-back of days gone by. Her lavender dresses and sensible shoes would seem outlandish on anyone else. But somehow, Aunt Molly made it work. The jaunty hat and white gloves were a stretch, but that was Aunt Molly, always proper, even in an age where proper was a relative term.

While sipping punch and munching cookies with the other volunteers in the cafeteria, Aunt Molly regaled her with tales of England.

"You're planting the garden, aren't you?" Aunt Molly had said, her gray-blue eyes snapping with excitement.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Have you read 'Of Gardening' by Francis Bacon?"

Stacy admitted to not having read it.

Aunt Molly made a tsk-ing sound behind her dentures. "I'll bring you my copy. It's an essay on the proper way to garden, which plants to put where—that sort of thing. Of course, the author's vision was thirty acres of 'the greatest refreshments to the spirits of man'." She went on to explain that Bacon's ideal garden had plants for all twelve months, so something was always growing.

"You should have seen my Stuart." Aunt Molly leaned back in the folding chair, her gloved hands wrapped firmly around her cup so as not to spill. "He loved the ivy and violets best."

Stacy could imagine a young Molly and her dashing husband, perched on white wicker and sipping tea with their pinkies raised.

"Occasionally," Aunt Molly continued, "I had to pull his tail feathers to get him out of there so he wouldn't gobble them all gone."

Stacy choked on her macaroon. "Excuse me?"

"We had a fine garden," Aunt Molly went on, oblivious to Stacy's bewilderment. "Oh, not thirty acres, mind you, but enough for the two of us to enjoy." Her gaze lifted to the far wall, and Stacy knew the woman saw past the concrete and into that little garden.

That day, Aunt Molly's friend, Noelle, came to pick her up. Noelle was the youth pastor's wife at the older woman's church. Stacy pulled her aside to ask about the tail feathers.

"It's okay." Noelle's eyes danced. "Aunt Molly has never been married. Stuart was a big white duck." Then she threw back her head and laughed. Stacy joined in, her mirth bubbling like a fountain to the surface.

That was when she'd seen the man for the first time—and he wasn't amused by their buffoonery.

* * * * *

Stacy looked out at her "Francis Bacon" creation from the gazebo, about a hundred feet from the building.

He'd started his essay with a lovely thought: "God Almighty first planted a garden."

"Yes, he did Mr. Bacon," she said to herself as she sat cross-legged on the ground.

In his essay, Bacon broke up his thirty-acre garden into three parts, the entrance with trim grass, the middle with natural plants as found in the wild, which she translated as succulent desert plants, and finally the main garden with plenty of aromatic and colorful flowers.

She copied that to the best of her ability—and money. Grandpa had designated a portion of his will to Brook Meadows, and Stacy approached the administrators about using that money to landscape the place. They jumped at the idea.

She had placed the gazebo in the main garden. Often since its completion, the residents who were able would venture out and sit with her. She loved to take time from her weekly cultivating to chat.

Aunt Molly, arm in arm with Mrs. Jacoby, a hunched-over gnomish woman with untamed faded red hair, joined Stacy. She worried that the bulkier woman could pull the frail one down if she fell. What was Aunt Molly thinking?

Stacy helped Mrs. Jacoby lower her bulk into a sturdy wrought iron chair while Aunt Molly sat on a garden bench.

"Easter's right around the corner," Mrs. Jacoby wheezed while she settled in, keeping a firm grip on her metal cane.

"Yes ma'am, it is," Stacy answered. She took a swig of the bottled water she'd brought with her and leaned against a post.

"You've made this place a delight, you know."

Stacy felt her cheeks flush from the compliment. "God made the flowers. I only placed them where He directed."

"I wish all of my neighbors could come out here to enjoy the beauty." The woman glanced around the garden, squinting from sunshine splashing in pools of light beyond the shade. "Take, for instance, Viola Haynes," Mrs. Jacoby said while gripping her cane in front of her. "She's been in a coma for months. Her son finally admitted her about a month ago. Sad case. Very sad." She shook her head and gripped her cane while tapping the rubber tip to the ground.

"Would her son be the man in the nice suits?" Stacy asked. That would explain his intolerance to others having fun.

"Yes, that's him. Adam. Such a nice man. Loves his mother. Anyone who loves his mother is tops in my book."

Stacy nodded. He was surly on one hand, yet loved his mother on the other. "I've only seen him by himself. Do you know if he's married?"

She noticed Aunt Molly shift on the bench. Was that a gleam in the faded gray-blue eyes?

"No, I don't think so." Mrs. Jacoby shook her head. "He doesn't wear a ring, but that doesn't mean much these days, does it? Such a sad time, too. What with spring and all the new life you've got growing out here."

"Ahem." Aunt Molly cleared her throat, gaining their attention. "I think it would be quite proper to say a prayer for Mr. Haynes and his mother right now."

They all agreed. Stacy started, "Dear Lord, we lift up the Haynes family to you right now. Please heal Mrs. Haynes and bring her back to her family. At this time when new life is budding, as Mrs. Jacoby has pointed out, it would be a shame for her to miss all of Your beauty. Resurrect her as you did Lazarus from the tomb..."

"My mother's not dead yet, ladies."

They all turned to see Adam Haynes at the side door, his face flushed. He pivoted and stalked down the sidewalk leading through the natural desert plants.

* * * * *

Throughout the next week, Stacy mulled over in her mind what had upset Adam Haynes so. Was it a misunderstanding or the prayer itself? At least she didn't pray for God to take his mother quickly and end her suffering. That wouldn't have gone over very well, either. As much as she empathized with Mr. Haynes, she did feel miffed at his rudeness.

"He's probably always been like that, just a cantankerous weed of a man," she mumbled to herself as she wandered through the garden, armed with a small forked tool.
A patch of purple caught her eye. She wrinkled her nose in disgust.

Periwinkles! Beautiful when contained, but merely a weed when their roots traveled underground and popped up where they weren't wanted.

She knew better than to plant those, but they were on Francis Bacon's list and a dime a dozen. Cheap, beautiful, tenacious plants.

She started whacking at the patch that had sprung up in the natural garden when she heard, "Ahem."

Startled, Stacy clutched her heart. "I'm sorry, Aunt Molly. I didn't hear you." The tiny woman must have floated into the garden.

After tossing the purple flowers into the trash pail, she was surprised to see the octogenarian bend over gingerly and rescue them.

"Aunt Molly, you'll get your gloves all dirty!" She started to whisk them out of her hand but the older woman turned and headed for the main garden.

What is she doing? Stacy watched in wonder as Aunt Molly lowered herself to her knees and planted the reject with the other periwinkles.

Stacy helped her to her feet. "Why did you do that? There are plenty of periwinkles in the garden, and they grow like weeds."

"Still, they are God's creation, and shouldn't be tossed away as if useless."

A thought struck Stacy. What had she just called Adam Haynes? A cantankerous weed? Could she simply toss his needs aside because he was rude to her? Perhaps before his mother came to Brook Meadows, he had been like the periwinkle that thrived in the main garden. But he strayed in his grief.

Stacy looked into Aunt Molly's tender eyes and saw unspoken wisdom there. She silently vowed to renew her prayer and to not judge so quickly.

* * * * *

Mrs. Haynes looked as if she might fade away right there under the sheets. Her transparent skin showed every vein and she was so thin, she barely made a lump in the bed.

Stacy, who since her grandfather died, had never made it past the nursing home restroom where she cleaned up after gardening, now stood at the foot of Viola Haynes' bed. Was it true that the comatose could hear you? What could she say to the woman?

She edged toward the right side of the bed and placed a pot of periwinkles on the night stand, white and purple.

"Mrs. Haynes, you don't know me. My name's Stacy Griffith. I volunteer here and have recently planted an English garden right outside your window. I've met your son and he sure is a handsome man." Stacy took a cleansing breath. That was the only positive thing she knew about him. Well, and that he loved his mother. "He's awfully worried about you. He visits every day, and I'll bet he talks to you just like I am right now." She pulled a chair closer to the bed, knowing now what she really wanted to say. Stroking the paper-thin hand, she began.

"Viola, there was a man whose name was Jesus. I don't know if you've heard of Him, so bear with me. He performed many miracles in his short lifetime. One of his greatest miracles was raising Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus was not only dead, he'd been prepared for burial and laid in a tomb. Jesus could have snapped his fingers and healed him instantly, but he waited four days before journeying to where Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha, lived. I believe he did that to show the world that He was God, and that through Him all things are possible."

Stacy paused to see if there was at least a flicker of an eyelid. There wasn't, but she went on.

"Jesus finally went to the tomb where Lazarus lay. He assured Martha that her brother would rise again. He also told her that He, Jesus, was the resurrection and the life. Then He went to the tomb and called for Lazarus to come out." Stacy felt herself flush with the excitement of the story. "And you know what, Viola? He did. Lazarus walked out of that tomb, and I'm praying for that to happen for you. I pray that Jesus calls your name to come out of this tomb."

"She knows the story."

Stacy gasped at the male voice. She whipped around and saw Adam leaning against the door jam, his hand thrust into his pants pocket.

"I'm so sorry," Stacy stammered as she rose. "I should have asked permission."

"Don't be sorry. I should be apologizing to you."

She waited, knowing this must be a pivotal moment for Adam.

He kept the hand in his pocket while smoothing the back of his head with the other. He wandered into the room. "My mom is a Christian. That's why, when this—" He paused a moment as if to control himself. "When this happened to her, I got mad at God. I asked Him why He would put her through this, knowing she was His faithful servant? Why punish her?"

Stacy swallowed hard and silently prayed for God to give her the words this man needed to hear. "Only God knows why this has happened, but understand this: He loves your mother more than you ever could. And I'm guessing that's a lot."

She motioned for him to sit in the chair she'd just vacated. Then she pulled another one near him. "Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? And that He Himself died and was raised again?"

Adam nodded his head, but then contradicted that action. "I don't know. In my world I deal with absolutes. Numbers. Things I can see, things I know are real. How can I be expected to believe in something I can't see?"

Think quick, Stace. "Have you been in my garden?"

He peered at her and cocked an eyebrow.

"You can see all of those plants, right? Well, you sure couldn't see them when they were seeds in the ground. But I had faith that they would grow, that they would eventually sprout a tender leaf, then another."

She glanced at the potted periwinkle and wondered how she would put this crumpled weed of a man back into the flower bed where he belonged.

"Take that plant, for instance. It disappears every winter. Yet, there it is every spring, usually popping up in unexpected places. I don't see Jesus right now, but His handiwork pops up every now and then, in the miracle of a garden, or in the healing of a soul."

Adam looked at his mother and took her frail hand in his strong one. "Faith." He said the word so softly, Stacy barely heard him.

"Your mom talked to you a lot about faith, didn't she?"

"She told me once, that no matter what happened to her, she knew where she was going." He reached over and moved a faded brown curl from his mother's face, smoothing it toward her temple. "She said it was up to me if I wanted that same assurance, but that she couldn't do it for me."

Stacy ventured prayerfully with her next words. "Adam, if your mother hadn't become sick, would you have talked to God at all, even in anger?"

He lifted his eyes to her, torment swirling in the brown depths. "No."

* * * * *

Periwinkle!

Stacy bent to whack at another patch of purple, when she suddenly had a vision of Aunt Molly kneeling to put the damaged plant back in its bed. With a groan, she bent over and gently pried the plant loose. "You owe me one, Aunt Molly!" she said as she walked it back to the main garden.

When she turned back toward the building, she was pleased to see Adam there, watching her with his suit jacket pulled aside and his hand thrust into his pants pocket. It had been three weeks since their talk at his mother's bed. They hadn't spoken much since, but his greetings were much more civil.

She waved at him and he approached her, glancing around at the garden.

"Guess I never really looked at it before," he said as he sat on the bench. She pulled off her gloves and joined him in the matching chair.

"What do you think?"

"It looks like spring has sprung! How did you make all of these different plants work together?"

"With the help of a good friend and an essay by Francis Bacon." She leaned back and crossed her legs. Who'd have thought she'd ever feel comfortable chatting with Adam Haynes? "Of course, God did the preliminary work for me."

Adam laughed and she felt her heart flutter. She was right, he was an attractive man!

"I'm almost embarrassed to admit this..." he placed his elbows on his knees and looked at his shoes.

"What?" she asked, puzzled. Was this numbers man ruffled?

"I don't know your name."

She laughed and thrust out her hand. "Hi, I'm Stacy Griffith. Pleased to meet you."

He chuckled and shook the offered hand. "Adam Haynes. How do you do?"

Stacy managed to linger in his palm before she allowed him to take it back. "How's your mother?"

He turned sober again, but she noticed, without the grim slit for a mouth. "The same. But I followed your lead."

She cocked her head. Did she sense growth? Had his crumpled roots taken to the flower bed after all?

"I'm reading scripture to her. All her favorite stories."

Stacy had to force the lump from her throat. "I'm sure she'd be pleased. And who knows, maybe she hears you."

"Maybe." He rose to leave, then turned. "Tomorrow's Easter, isn't it?"

"Yes. My church is having a sunrise service. Would you like to join us?" She told him where it was to be held.

"Mom would like that." He smiled. "I—would like that."

God would like that. And I especially would like that, Adam Haynes.

"Ahem." The tiny voice caught their attention. "Mr. Haynes," Aunt Molly said, her eyes bright. "The nurses are looking for you. Your mother is wondering where you are."

* * * * *

Dear Reader: God had given me part of my title, periwinkle, then stood back, rubbed His chin and said, "Let's see what you can do with that." My Lord has such a sense of humor. So I brainstormed with my sister-in-law, Carol, telling her I wanted it to write something to do with resurrection. She said periwinkle reminded her of an English garden. Aunt Molly immediately popped into my head. It was significant to write this story about a woman in a coma, and use the Lazarus story from the Bible. A couple of years of ago, Carol had been our family's Lazarus. She lay in a coma for several weeks after a bad bout of pneumonia, and we also wondered how God could do that to such a selfless, giving child of His. I have no answers to that question, except that I must trust God with everything that happens in my life and the life of other believers. If I knew what God was thinking, I probably wouldn't need Him. God did call Carol out of that tomb, and she's still a strong believer—even after intense therapy to learn to walk again—never wavering in her faith that God knew what He was doing.


Dear reader, If you enjoyed this story, and would love to know how steeping tea saves a marriage, please read Odd Ducks and Tea and how she brings tradition to its knees in Odd Ducks and Clotted Cream. ~Blessings, Kathy


Copyright: Kathleen E. Kovach, 2005. All rights reserved.
If you wish to share my work, please do not copy without express permission, but I do invite you to send the link to those you feel will benefit from my stories. Thank you for understanding.