My mother loved flowers. All flowers—wildflowers, garden flowers, flowers in low-to-the-ground clumps or adorning tall stalks, flowers on vines and shrubs and trees…big, small, bright, demure, there wasn't a bloom of any sort that I ever heard her say she didn't like. And she was especially fond of roses.
One of her favorite roses—perhaps her most favorite—was an old pink rambler of indeterminate name and origin, that grew along the fence in the front yard. This rose only bloomed once, in late spring, but it did so in stunning profusion—hundreds of pale pink blossoms, some as wide across as your hand. The flowers had no scent to speak of, and when they faded and fell, that was it for the year, though the leaves remained a shiny, deep green—the darkest green of any rosebush I know—throughout the summer and most of the fall. Too, the bush was healthy, virtually immune to bugs and diseases that often plagued the other rose varieties in the yard, and a vigorous grower. Almost too vigorous.
Mom loved this rose. However, she also said it was the "meanest" plant she knew.
Yes, that's an odd word. A strange term for characterizing a plant. Plants might be described as pretty, nondescript, fussy, or tolerant…but mean? And Mom meant the word in the sense of vicious, aggressive, ill-tempered. An odd word, indeed. More appropriate, you'd say, for speaking of a junkyard dog. Plants—roses—aren't mean.
Wrong! This rose was mean. That's absolutely the best word. Vicious, aggressive, ill-tempered—like a pink-spotted dragon with distemper. You couldn't walk within a dozen feet of that plant without it drawing your blood! Mowing anywhere close without getting nailed was impossible. Cutting a few flowers was like going into battle—and the rose invariably won. Long sleeves, heavy jeans, gloves, nothing including full body armor afforded any protection. The thorns were huge, innumerable, sharp as daggers, and set at an angle so that when you barely touched one, you immediately drew the cane and its hundreds of other thorns onto your clothing and flesh.
From the end of one winter to the start of the next, everyone wore the rosebush's wounds on their arms, legs, neck, cheeks, and sometimes elsewhere—a distinctive series of punctures, like lines of stitching from an oversized needle, and either oozing blood or sporting a dark scab, depending on the stage of healing. Scare tissue around our wrists was inevitable.
Still, Mom continued to love this rose; Dad, too, or at least he tolerated it, and was usually the one to give it a good trimming every couple of years, least it ramble into the the neighboring yards…and perhaps up the street, throughout the community, to eventually take over the township. As I said, it was a vigorous grower.
I write about this rose today for several reasons—first, because it's now in bloom; second, because come Memorial Day every year—which Mom called Decoration Day—we'd gird our bodies as best we could, and brave the onslaught of this meanest rose, snipping blooms as we yelped and wailed, amid much pain and suffering, until we either had the necessary bushel or so of flowers needed for placing on the graves of family members, or else were running too dangerously low on blood to continue.
Funny the way certain memories stick. Come Memorial Day, I can't help but remember this "meanest" rose and what we regularly faced to gather its blooms. Then there's also the fact I brought cuttings from that rosebush and planted them beside the cottage, when they now thrive—and I plan on taking a few cut flowers from them along when Myladylove and I go to decorate the family graves later today.
In more ways than one, I think Mom and Dad will appreciate the gesture.