CATHY LEE PHILLIPS
The world is a sad place when you are 5 years old, have no money, and your mother’s birthday is two days away.
He would make her a birthday card, of course, but he wanted to do more. His mother was sad and slept a lot. “I’m just weary of winter,” she said. He sensed something was terribly wrong, but didn’t know what to say or do.
His older sister noticed his sad face. Though 12 years apart, they were very close. They would grow closer as their mother’s cancer advanced and the boy would ask questions with hard answers. Sooner or later, he would understand that his mother would not get better.
Their father had left months before. With their mother unable to work, they struggled to buy necessities, and a birthday present wasn’t considered a necessity. The sister failed to cheer her brother. In fact, she was more disheartened than ever.
“Let’s go for a walk,” she suggested and they grabbed their coats.
Holding hands, they crossed the driveway, trudged the uneven ground of last summer’s vegetable garden and turned onto an old pulpwood road. They passed to a small creek where chilly water drifted over flat, moss-covered rocks, and turned down a narrow pathway they had never before explored. The trail curved sharply then opened into a large meadow.
They stopped suddenly, shocked and amazed at the view before them. Jonquils! Hundreds – no, thousands – of them! They waltzed in the wind, bright and yellow, painting a dazzling picture against the dark winter sky. The sweet scent of spring permeated the meadow.
The sister immediately grabbed a jonquil and held it to her face. Closing her eyes, she breathed deeply, celebrating the unexpected moment of spring amid that cold winter day.
“Mama loves jonquils!”
The 5-year-old broke the silence and smiled for the first time in days. He picked flowers until they fell from his hands and dropped to the ground. He ran to get his wagon while his sister continued to gather flowers and marvel at the view. He returned quickly but his wagon could barely hold the abundance of blossoms.
At home, they found fruit jars, 16 in all, in the musty cellar under the house. The jars were scratched and dirty but literally sparkled when they were scrubbed and filled with yellow daffodils, their sweet scent permeating the tiny house.
“I know her birthday is not for two more days, but can I take them to her now?”
He was smiling again! His sister agreed that right then would be a perfectly fine time for their mother to receive 16 jars of flowers. They loaded his wagon and pulled it into their mother’s bedroom.
“Happy Birthday, Mama,” the little boy practically shouted. She awoke, saw the flowers, and laughed out loud.
“I love jonquils,” his mother replied. “They bloom in the winter and teach us that life goes on forever,” she said softly, glancing at her daughter.
The little boy placed the flowers all around the room, then climbed into his mother’s arms and fell asleep.
Thus, the tradition was born, one that continued even after the cancer took her life. The boy never forgot his mother’s birthday and each February walked to the far pasture, picked a huge bouquet of the familiar yellow blossoms, placed them inside a fruit jar and left them beside her grave.
When he was 22, the boy graduated from college and accepted a fine job that provided him with the money he longed for as a child. As the end of winter approached that year, he returned to the meadow where the daffodils bloomed and the air smelled sweet. Everything was the same, except for the exquisite crystal vase tucked in the trunk of his new car.
His mother had been happy with the simple fruit jars that held her flowers, but now the boy had money for something more. Leaving his office early, he bought an exquisite crystal vase to hold his mother’s birthday flowers. He walked to the meadow and selected only the tallest and most magnificent flowers before driving to the little church where his mother was buried. He carefully removed the beautiful vase and filled it with water and the majestic winter flowers. After placing it squarely beside his mother’s grave, he sat quietly for a while, said a silent goodbye and walked toward his car.
Climbing in, he snapped the seatbelt, reached for the key … but couldn’t leave. Something was wrong. He stared at the gravesite for a while before he understood. Smiling, he opened the trunk and removed an old fruit jar – smudged and scratched – yet far more valuable than crystal.
He walked back to his mother’s grave, carefully emptied the crystal and set the jonquils in the old fruit jar.
Ah, yes . . . .
Placing the flowers at the edge of her grave, he finally understood the lesson he had been learning since he was a 5-year-old boy. He and his sister gathered countless jonquils for their mother’s birthday each winter, and she had loved every flower. But she never once asked for a crystal vase. She didn’t need to. She well knew that it wasn’t the package that made a gift special – it was the love with which it was given.
As long as she lived in his heart and memory, the boy vowed that his mother would receive her jonquils – the yellow flowers that bloomed in the winter and spoke of life eternal.
And they would be wrapped each year, not in a crystal vase, but in a simple fruit jar filled with a child’s greatest love.
Cathy Lee Phillips
Copyright © 2011
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