Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Grampa Mac's Posies

I went out this evening into the steamy twilight, the heat of the day drawing round me like an unwelcome shawl. Most of the perennials I have already cut back in these past weeks of temperatures of 90 degrees F.
It has been too dry and even the nightly dew has been sparse.
I was surprised to see that the rose Hawkeye Belle had two partly open blooms--too precious to be left for the Japanese Bettles to destroy in the morning.
I fetched the kitchen scissors and snipped the rosebuds, then strolled along the edges of the recently cut front yard field, trailed by the barn cats.
I thought of the little bouquets which Grampa Mac
so often cut for me.
"Posies," he called them.
The farmhouse dooryard offered the usual flowers of an old New England home.  The never-used front door was faced with a grassy rectangle anchored on one end by a honeysuckle bush and on the other by an apricot tree.  Between these two sentinels lay a spread of lily of the valley which crept out from the honeysuckle to cluster at the base of a red peony. A second peony enjoyed the apricot's lacey shade. 
The center of the garden was defined by a clump of lemon daylilies.  Beyond the lilies a fan of pale iris staked a claim, nearly over taken by a rambling rose with small glossy leaves and clusters of flat pale pink blooms.  It was The Fairy, acquired by Great-Grandmother Eliza who had saved up cereal boxtops and sent them off with the requisite postage.
I can picture the unwrapping of the fragile, bare-root plant when it arrived after days of anticipation.
I doubt that Grandma Eliza set it out.  That task would likely have been done by her husband Eddie or by Grandpa Mac.

Fairy Rose
Image from
Rounding the corner of the big white house into the north-facing back yard one encountered an old rose--probably one of the Albas--the bush was kept trimmed fairly short and produced fat pale buds which opened to creamy blushing blooms on prickly stems.
It was Grampa Mac's custom to cut a rose or two, using his finely honed Barlow knife.
Holding the roses gently in large work-calloused fingers, he deftly whisked off the thorns against the knife blade. Red or white clover, a stiff stem of bluebells, a frothy spill of Queen Anne's Lace were only steps away at the verge of the gravel road.  A few of these wildlings tucked around the roses and the nosegay was ready to be bound with a stem of timothy.
Often I was present and watched the careful assembly of the small bouquet to be carried home [next door] and tucked into the dainty vase made to resemble a robin perched on a twig.
At other times Grampa Mac walked the few hundred yards between the two houses, following the path that threaded past the big maple and onto the road.
The summer days work of haying, the milking of the cows would be over and he would come to sit for a few moments at our house, perhaps enjoying a slice of cake or a dish of pudding

which Mother had saved for him.
His conversation was easy, almost desultory; weather, the liklihood--or not--of rain before morning, the garden, the anticipation of blackberries ripening in the thickets near the sugar house.
He would call "goodnight" as Mother shooed us to bed [impossibly early!] and trudge back to his own quiet house, there to soak his weary feet for a few moments in a blue enamel basin filled with cool water.
That done, the water was sloshed over the back porch rail onto a volunteer peach tree and the screen door slapped behind as he entered the cool house.
The case clock was carefully wound and straightened on its narrow shelf, a last glance at the pink-streaked western sky, and then the uneven tread of his feet ascending to his small solitary room at the head of the stairs.  To bed, as the last sleepy birdsong of the long day drifted in through the open window.

I snipped my flowers this evening, thinking as I so often do, of my Grampa Mac.
In the years of my growing up next door he spoke so seldom of my grandmother, Helene, dead in her early 40's after several years of failing health.
I blunted the thorns on the stems of the roses with a quick clash of the scissors, added red clover, Queen Anne's lace, a few clove pinks and several sprigs of Siberian catmint--to echo the long-ago bluebells of Grampa Mac's posies.
He was a quiet man of steady, hard-working habits, not much for jokes or small talk.
I like to think that during his courting of Helene, he may have washed off the dust and sweat of the hayfield, doned a clean shirt and set about assembling a posy for his love.
The same old fashioned flowers would have flourished in his mother's dooryard--the Adirondack farm tucked against the bulk of Tongue Mountain. 
My imagination pictures him, young, sturdy and handsome, stripping the thorns from a clutch of roses,
adding sweet clover and Queen Anne's Lace, binding the fragrant handful with a long green stem before he places it carefully on the buggy seat, picks up the reins and clucks to his horse.
Going down the dusty mountain road to spend an hour with the slender young woman he loves; a tall woman with hair the color of dark honey, who will play the piano for him as he sits in the parlour with her family. I fancy I see her walk with him down the path , to stand for  precious moments with him in the gloaming, until, ever mindful of the next day's early rising, Mac climbs into the buggy and turns the horse back up the mountain road.  Helene listens until the scrape of the buggy wheels is lost in the twilight. Her long pale skirt brushes the edge of the path as she walks slowly to the house.  She smiles and hums a thread of the melody her fingers  coaxed earlier from the piano. When Mac asks the question she knows is forming in his mind, she will answer him gladly.


  1. How beautifully and evocatively you write. I really was transported back to the days when your Grampa was courting, and what beautiful little posies he made up . . . He and Helen are still alive as long as they are remembered . . .

  2. Beautiful images and beautifully written about beautiful people. You write so well. It is a pleasure to read your posts.

  3. Beautiful memories, beautifully written. Thank you.

  4. Two nicely intertwined yet clear and distinct pictures you've painted for us here MM.

    What a bonny start to a day........

  5. Just lovely. I do enjoy these old stories.

  6. Thank you for this sweet posting.

    Have a great day ~ FlowerLady

  7. Thank you, friends, for the affirmation. After writing this, I wondered if my imagination had taken a too sentimental jurney!

  8. Like everyone else I think your post is beautiful, lovely to read old stories that mean so much to other people,thank you.Love Jill xx

  9. this is a lovely post sharon! I really enjoyed reading this.

    leanne x

  10. What a wonderful picture you painted with you well chosen words.