Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Miss Murphy's Roses

The last of the Rosa mundi roses has dropped its petals. The wiry, prickly stems look battered, the leaves are getting their usual mysterious and unlovely spots. The flowers were single, or barely doubled, striped pink and white. One of the group is reverting to the old pure deep pink Apothecary Rose, and looked jaunty some weeks ago, the standout amongst the frolic of stripes.

People passing the little strip where the roses grow thought they were poppies; there were poppies there as well--huge red ones, frilled pink ones, a scatter of silky white, but they too have died back, giving ground to the red and yellow four-o-clocks that scent the summer night air with their lemon and sugar perfume.

It's--oh, I don't know how many years, decades now, this exact day, since I came to this region. And I've been thinking of Jessie Zerisha Murphy, school teacher and spinster, gardener and painter. The rosa mundi roses are from her garden, which became my garden after she'd died, which then became bits and pieces scattered throughout our county a few years later, as my dear landlord, never a businessman, sold the property, and the new owner made plans that included bulldozers, and not roses.

He's been dead many years as well, that lean and hungry mega landowner who came to my house the week after he'd made the purchase. I had my two month old son in my arms. We sat together on the porch, under the greengage plum tree, beside the old white roses, and he said he wanted to help me out. Knowing I'd have no place to go (oh, had he forgotten to mention he was bulldozing the house?) he'd painted up a nice little shack. He gazed at my milk filled breasts and put an arm around my shoulders. I stood up and told him to leave, shaking with anger. My son was crying.

When he died, and his family--his sickly wife, his thuggish sons, the fat daughter who was older than me and always looked sad--buried him in the fancy family gravesite I went, after the funeral, and stood at his new grave.

I thought of the bulldozed house, the scattered gardens, and my life that had, after all, taken a turn for the better despite the fear and struggle. I thought of the kind lawyer who'd bought me enough time to find a place for my child, my dog, and my surviving cats. He'd advised me for free when I went to his office, weeping with rage. My conversations with the new landlord henceforth were confined to "talk with my lawyer".

"You know, I forgive you," I said that autumn afternoon."Perhaps you meant well." And I took two flowers from the grave. "We'll call it even" I said, and walked away.

He's buried not very far from Miss Murphy. She wrote out all the instructions for her funeral service in advance, and carried them with her in her purse, those years of her last decade. She was--well, I always think 90 something, but really I believe she had not quite made it that far. Tall, slim, she wore boots and strode with slashing steps everywhere through the town. For decades she taught the youngsters of the area, and painted, and planted flowers, especially roses, which she loved. I talked with her a few times before she died, before I rented her house in order to give those roses some care, sitting in the little house whose walls were covered with paintings. Vivid paintings of flowers, trees, landscapes. And turtles. And all over the house were turtles--she had hundreds of turtles. Glass ones, metal ones, little stone turtles and huge tin turtles.

Her funeral service, per her request, used the lines from the Bible about "lo, the winter is past--the voice of the turtle is heard in the land".

They are self contained, but full of passion, she said. I didn't want to disappoint her and tell her I believe the "turtles" in the Bible were really doves--let them be turtles, singing in the spring time, that's fine.

She had one tree she painted perhaps a dozen paintings of--a liquidamber, with its leaves like stars. It was too big, really, for the crowded little garden, but she loved it, and love makes room.
The paintings showed the tree bare, then with the first tiny curling leaves, like tiny fingertips, and then more bold, and then full green stars, and then the flames of autumn, and then bare.

In the parking lot garden I have one of these trees, and every time I pass it I stop and look at it, and touch the leaves, and think of Miss Murphy. Yesterday I stood there admiring it and a blackbird came and sat on my shoulder. The blackbirds love this tree, and the huge pomegranate next to it, where they hide their nests. My percher probably had meant to warn me off, and then got distracted. Or maybe I just seemed like a handy new place to rest from flying and singing.

At any rate, I smiled. I am always honored when I am still enough that a bird will perch on me, or a snake come and sun herself, or the bees pass on their way to the flowers quite undismayed. The quiet intersections are gifts.

And perhaps our human intersections are gifts as well--be they tumultuous as with my evictor, or briefly brilliant and nurturing as my moments with Miss Murphy. Her roses grow all over this county now, and in the next. I still have her garden fork.


Blogger Dr O2 said...

Well Jarvenpa, Landlords are to be landlords right :-) And flowers are meant to die.

It is this rare moments with flowers that we treasure & stay with us for ever in he hope of a next time.

P.S: SNAKES!! I am scared of them millions!! I imagine I'll faint if I ever see one :-(

1:35 AM, July 12, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Active Garden - garden products - garden houses, grillhouses, summer houses and other log products

6:25 AM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

Well, dear Dr, if you faint around snakes I guess they'd leave you be. Someday I may tell the story of the big rattlesnake (they are poisonous) who came to visit us one hot summer day, in search of water.
I've always loved snakes, but I find that many people share your deep fear of them.
And how did the nefarious anonymous sneak in here??
Oh well, garden sales are amongst the more innocent sites, I'd hope.

2:23 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger jac said...

Miss Murphy's roses will grow beyond borders and her poppies too, the red white and pink ones.

Your writing touches hearts !

9:36 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger David said...

I never had a bird land on me before, however, something from a bird landed on me once!

You are a very forgiving person Jarvenpa! Perhaps I would be happier in my life if I could be more forgiving. However, I have a memory like an elephant. Fortunately, I have some good memories mixed in with the bad ones. :)

Going back to birds, a pair of doves recently built a nest right on top of the empty robin's nest. They may well be the same doves that built the nest last year. They raised two chicks, the last of which flew away a few days ago. I'll post some pics soon. :)

Hey, I really like snakes too! I like to feel them slithering through my fingers. Sorry Doc, I must be making you queezy. ;)

10:46 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger Rose said...

I luved the way you write..

2:13 AM, July 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:38 PM, July 13, 2006  
Blogger jarvenpa said...

jac, david, rose and mindinside--thank you for your comments.
david--how nice to have doves nesting!
maybe we can take it as a good sign in this otherwise so troubled world of ours.
I try to be forgiving because holding on to hatred and pain is hard on me. I'm selfish--I'd rather have good feelings. That one though, was especially hard for me. But, as I said, I did end up in a better place (and, oddly, I just realized my oldest son's shop is pretty close to where that house was, in a totally different building. He was the poor crying babe in my arms then).

7:41 PM, July 16, 2006  

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