My dad loved gardening. Every weekend, he would spend hours working in his rock garden, which looked like something straight out of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. The rocks formed patterns and each section was color-coordinated. One contained all yellow flowers, another all red or pink – and they bloomed perfectly, as if adhering to a precise schedule.
I, on the other hand, never had any interest in plants or flowers. I don’t even know the difference between a geranium and a petunia. That’s because I honestly believe I am poisonous to anything green. I just look at a plant and it instantly withers in fear and drops dead. For this reason, my house contains no plants whatsoever as part of the décor. Heck, I can’t even grow mold on old bread.
My dad passed away long before cremation became all the rage, so he was buried in a traditional grave with a headstone…on which my mother and I faithfully placed flowers every Memorial Day.
Mom always emphasized that the cemetery's rules stated that flowers and plants had to be removed from the graves within a week or they would be cleared away by the staff. So she, because she lived only five miles from the cemetery, always returned at the end of Memorial Day week, took the flowers back home and planted them in Dad’s rock garden in his memory, which I thought was a really nice idea.
Mom died 22 years after my dad, but she was cremated. Her urn is in my china cabinet. My husband passed away six years after she did. His urn is on my hutch. So they both are close to me at all times. However, I now live 28 miles from my dad’s final resting place.
Before Mom died, she made me promise I would continue the tradition of leaving flowers on my dad’s grave every Memorial Day.
“But NO artificial flowers!” she emphasized. “Your father hated artificial flowers! And nothing purple!”
Purple was my dad’s least favorite color because he said it reminded him of casket lining, so Mom and I made certain never to wear anything purple…at least not in front of him.
I kept my promise, and every Memorial Day I faithfully drove to the cemetery to put flowers on my dad’s grave. But to be honest, the cemetery always gave me the creeps. For one thing, it was huge, nearly 200 acres, with about six roads zig-zagging through it. And it was surrounded by thick forests. My dad’s grave was located in the most isolated part of the cemetery – dark and wooded. Every time I went there, every horror movie I’d ever seen sprang to mind. And I also got lost more than once when I was driving out of the place because I zigged when I should have zagged.
I always wanted my flowers to live up to my dad’s high standards, so I got into the habit of spending a lot of money on them. I always bought them on my way to the cemetery because I knew if I bought them in advance and took them home, they, considering my past history, probably would commit suicide within an hour.
So last Wednesday, while I was shopping, I decided to break my own rule and pick up a flowering plant ahead of time for my planned visit to the cemetery on Saturday.
You can keep it alive Thursday and Friday, I told myself. It’s only two days. Have faith...you can do it.
Adding to my confidence was the fact I witnessed a clerk generously watering the plants, so I knew they weren’t likely to be thirsty anytime soon...or become the victims of my unintentional talent for drowning all things that grow.
I also decided to buy cheaper flowers. With the price of gas, I knew I wasn’t about to make the 56-mile round trip to go pick up the flowers a week after I put them on the grave, so after looking at about 1,200 different plants, I finally purchased some deep pink “whatevers" (I had no idea what they were because there was nothing on the container that offered any information). But it really didn’t matter to me if they were pansies or zinnias. I cared only that they were pretty, fully in bloom, and $7.98.
Under the lighting at the checkout register, however, the flowers looked more purple than pink. I felt panicky, so I asked the clerk what color she would call them.
“Fuchsia,” she said.
That was good enough for me.
I carefully placed the flowers on the floor in the front seat of my car and made sure I drove the exact speed limits posted, to avoid jostling anything that might cause the blossoms to fall off. When I got home, I carried the flowers up to the door, then reached to unlock it…and dropped the container.
Of course, it landed upside down.
The immediate assessment of the damage didn’t look too bad – two lost blossoms and a broken stem. Manageable, I thought.
I brought the flowers inside and set them down on the washer so they were facing the window in the laundry room. Then I figured I'd keep my distance from them to ensure their survival.
Alas, by Friday night, they were dead – limp, shriveled, and horror of horrors, the previously bright pink blossoms now looked a deathly shade of purple, my dad’s least favorite color. There was NO way I was going to put a bunch of dead purple flowers on his grave.
I got up really late on Saturday, and by then, there were thunderstorm warnings in effect...some with hail. Visions of myself in the scary cemetery during a thunderstorm, and also driving the 56-mile round-trip in that kind of weather while searching for some new flowers to replace the dead ones, made me do something I’m ashamed to admit.
I didn't go to the cemetery.
But on the bright side, neither did my dead purple flowers.
I think my dad should be happy that I stayed home, however, because I was so upset about my failure to keep the flowers alive, I seriously toyed with the idea of buying him some artificial ones – that looked incredibly real, of course.
So please, Dad, don’t come haunt me.
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Sally Breslin is an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science fiction. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org