MORNING COFFEE 23 - talkative tulips

by Susan Weber

My painter friend has sent me a watercolor. It features tulips in a mason jar of liquid steeped in the colors of the painting. One blossom is charcoal gray, others dusty brown. Yellowed leaves catch the light. Tulip colors everybody longs for this time of year seem to have eluded capture.

When I was young I made up songs and sang them with my sisters. The songs had lines like delicate daisies drooping in the dawn and talkative tulips taking time for tea. Our mother’s garden offered ready inspiration. My sisters are grandmothers now and I’ll be pleased to hear more lyrics coming from their grandkids.

Our mother died too early, a non-smoker ravaged by lung disease. I mention her non-smoker status to emphasize she died through no fault of her own. But how many of us bring death on ourselves after all? Death has a controlling personality, as does life, with free will somewhere in between. When we celebrated Mom that late September, we tied Empress tulip bulbs in netting for mourners to take and plant around their houses. I planted mine by our front steps under an old hydrangea, my feelings with them for a season. The tulips bloomed royal red year by year until one spring they blossomed pure white. I wondered about genetic whimsy, but not for long. As deer moved in and nibbled off the buds, we let them be. Since then we’ve been unofficial feed farmers for suburbanized deer.

My painter friend had rented a house from friends around the time my mother died. I asked if I could plant some Empress bulbs beside his back door. He moved out that winter, but when I pass that way in springtime I’m tempted to take a stroll out back. So far I’ve refrained, but when those friends said recently they might retire to the house on Canterbury, my first thought was maybe I’d see Mom’s perennials in bloom.

The watercolor tulips are completely welcomed in the depths of Cleveland winter. When I look in the far right corner, a petal peeps out more vibrant than the rest. Perusing the others, where first I saw impenetrable brown I see burnt umbers and siennas now. There is whimsy in perception. The artist says that as he drew them, one stood up straight and another closed, slowly changing, very much alive. The composition reminds him of a wheel. And if it is a wheel, I think it might be orbiting life’s tenacious sphere.

Painting by Walter Campbell used with permission