Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Memorial Woman

“She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.” Proverbs 31:20

Has a scent ever tipped off a portion of your brain that hasn’t surfaced in a while, leading you down memory lane? Yesterday I was in my local Supercenter of Confusion looking for aluminum foil pans amongst the bath towels and caught a whiff of something that took me back in time. I had to look to see what it was coming from – Memorial Day flowers. (See why I called it the Supercenter of Confusion?) I’ve been thinking about my experiences with Memorial Day flowers ever since. So I thought I’d tell you the story too. Here goes:

There once was a man named Walter, whom I thought to be about 100 years old since I was 6 or so, and everyone over 30 was 100 to me. He was probably in his seventies then. He went to my childhood church and lived in a single-wide trailer a few blocks from my grandparents. His wife, Grace, was in a nursing home and occasionally my Nanna and I would go to visit her. Grace was not in good shape and the visits to her were very frightening to me. She would scream and I would hide. I would later work at this same nursing home when Walter lived there.

Anyway, my Nanna had known Walter and Grace forever and when Grace went into the nursing home, my Nanna would help Walter clean his house and such on occasion. Of course, I was always in tow. I had to entertain myself and would mostly watch the parakeet he had in a cage, stare at the items in his curio cabinet, or stand and look at myself in the mirror in Grace’s old room and talk to the figurines that were on her dresser. Walter also kept the Last Supper in milk chocolate in his refrigerator, which I would always want to see, but it could never be eaten since it was after all, the Last Supper, and his son had gotten it for him on a trip to Germany. His son lived in California, and I can still remember his face to this day, although the details about Walter’s appearance are now sketchy.

I also remember that he had two huge apple trees from which we could pick as many apples as we wanted. They fell all over his driveway and were a slick, brown mess before it was all over. The smell of rotten apples also invokes Walter memories as well.

Walter had a huge patio outside his trailer door that had two toned concrete in a checkerboard pattern. The blocks were probably 3’ x 3’ and I remember hopping around on them and trying to do hopscotch by myself. There was an elm tree to the south of the patio that had hanging on it a metal orange pop advertisement thermometer sign thingy. Walter also had a small shed that acted as his garage, and another smaller shed that was his workshop. It was rarely open, but when it was, I would stand at the door and watch.

Walter had been a sign man in his past and now in retirement, he hand crafted Memorial Day decorations from Styrofoam. He made foam books, wreaths, and stand up tablets that said Mom, Dad, Son, etc. on them. I particularly remember the ones that said Baby. He would fashion them all by hand, spray paint them, add artificial flowers and sometimes glitter, and then my Nanna and I would sell them in an old fireworks stand down along the highway. They came with green wire fastener things you would push down into the ground to secure them at the cemetery. The scent in the fireworks stand from artificial flowers and spray paint was heady.

Time went by and Walter passed away sometime when I was a teenager. My Nanna called me and said that the family was taking everything out of the trailer and getting rid of it. She said they told her she could have anything she wanted that had been his. She asked me, “Is there anything in there that you would want?”

My response, “I want that woman.”

I described her and told her where she was in Grace’s old bedroom. She had been a good companion for a little girl looking for company while her grandma worked. She had an air of elegance to her and had been the subject of many imaginary conversations. She was the only thing in that trailer that I wanted.

I didn’t know if the family would let her go or not. I thought they would probably want her, since I wanted her so bad. But, a couple of days later, my Nanna brought me my “woman” as I’ve always called her. I’ve had her since that day, and outside of surviving a couple of compound arm fractures from being pushed from a ledge by my cat, she looks the same today as she did to me as a child. She sits in my kitchen window and gives an air of elegance to my sink area. It needs all the help it can get!

So when the spoils of my life are separated and divided up amongst the survivors, I hope my family won’t look at my “woman” as just another garage sale find. Maybe they will read this and know that sometimes memories come from the most unlikely places, but they are treasured memories nonetheless. Maybe they’ll associate my “woman” with Memorial Day and remembering.

All this from the smell of fake flowers. Good thing I don’t go to the Supercenter of Confusion more often!

“Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” Proverbs 23:5


  1. Love this story. Thanks for sharing it.

    Fake flower smell at Memorial day always reminds me of Granny Hazel. I used to help her make "sprays" and then later, help her sell them, garage sale style, to all of her friends and others who happened to pass by and see the sign in her yard.

  2. Excellent one, I remember your Nanna so well. Your Mom and I used to play jokes on her, it is wonder she did not drown us in the root beer tank. She totally loved and enjoyed you, as I do. Your writing is wonderful, and a great gift.


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