The Rose Garden Massacre

This is what happens when a person with absolutely no taste is permitted to be in charge of a national treasure!

Of the many things that upset me about the past four years under the Trump administration (and they were divers, from the 600-some infants and children torn from their mother’s arms at the border to the fascist statement that the American press is “the enemy of the people”), few had such a visceral effect upon me as The Rose Garden Massacre.

I adore roses.  I’m complete crap at gardening, but for some reason, roses forgive me for my ineptitude, and grow for me.  They grow despite black spot and Japanese beetle and aphids and sudden spring freezes; despite too much rain and too little.  They grow despite my own incompetence at pruning and fertilizing and nurturing.  Roses, it seems, love me back.

So, because of my own love of roses and success with them, I had always taken exquisite pride in the White House rose garden.  Every spring I sought out photos of the flowering crab apple trees beginning to blossom.  I don’t really even like tulips, which I consider to be the most boring of flowers, yet I enjoyed the spring riot of color as the tulips beneath the crab apples began to cast their slender faces upward toward the sun.  It just pleased me, somehow, that what is essentially a business-place, one devoted to the running of an entire country, could possess such a garden, and such a concession to beauty; to green and growing things.

So it was with consternation and horror that I read, on August 22, 2020, of the rose garden renovations.  I sat in front of my computer, scanning the news stories, and gazing in horrified disbelief at the massacre of the nation’s well-loved rose garden.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I was well aware that, to accommodate those with disabilities (and the ridiculous stilettos worn by certain idiot females), new, wide walkways were needed in the White House rose garden; and that, although not actually visible in the restorations, access to higher tech was required.  These things were necessary in order to move the rose garden—site of so many gatherings and press briefings—into the 21st century.

But this—this devastation—was not.

Rose Garden

The flowering crab apple trees, so lovingly planted by Jacqueline Kennedy, were missing, perhaps slaughtered.  I read claims that these trees had been transplanted, not merely cut down, but (perhaps due to my lack of knowledge about horticulture), I dismissed the idea; how does one transplant a 60-year-old tree? Is that even possible?  The renovations had been announced in August; were the tulip bulbs still gently hidden in their hibernation, waiting until spring to once more toss riotous, dancing color to the sky?  Again, I doubted.  And the roses themselves—the lovely, richly colored, beautiful roses, where were they?  A swath of ghostly pale blossoms lined those new walkways against the clearly-revealed, garish white of the colonnade.

I could not understand any of it.  The trees, I read, had been overgrown, casting too much shade, and so had to be removed.  How strange!  I’d always believed one pruned trees regularly, to prevent their becoming overgrown.  But the missing color—the glorious, wild, rambunctious color of the rose garden—why had it been dimmed, diminished, banished?

Of course, this is what happens when one allows an individual whose prior claims to fame, before acquiring certified gold digger status for her marriage to a wealthy man, had been producing full-frontal nudity and lesbian porn photos, to be in charge of a national treasure. (No, much as I despise the woman, I will not provide a link; if you want to see those vulgar pictures, you can look them up.)  Even setting aside her infamous pornographic photos,  Melania Knauss Trump had already proven, numerous times, that taste was not a word in her lexicon.  Consider her frightening and much-maligned White House Christmas décor, her notorious “I Don’t Care” shirt, or the mangled grammar of her anti-cyber-bullying initiative, which proved conclusively that she had no idea to whom she was married.

Hence, her transformation of the well-loved White House rose garden into an eerie diminutive of the Russian Gorky Park.

The day after the President Biden took office, I looked for and signed one of numerous petitions begging our new First Lady to take in hand the restoration of this beloved icon of America.  As I remarked to several friends, beyond passing the hat at the office to purchase cards and flowers for coworkers, I have absolutely no experience whatever of fundraising, but I would gladly delve into the necessary work to assemble whatever money was needed for the project.

Erasing fascism, racism, cult-behavior, xenophobia, sedition, vicious rhetoric and name-calling from the American government will, no doubt, be an overwhelming challenge for the new administration.  But planting ten crab apple trees and some tulips, along with roses bursting with color in every shade and variety, should be almost effortless by comparison. And it might just help, in one tiny way, to bind up the wounds and restore the damaged soul of  our Nation.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also find you like “Cathy’s Roses”, from July 24, 2018, or “A Memory Walk”, posted September 11, 2019.  Both essays can be found in the Archives.

A Memory Walk

§  I hope that others will share the idea and take up the custom of a Memory Walk for the friends and family members they have lost.  §

Last Thursday afternoon my daughter, Amanda, and I, taking little Morrigan Lynn with us, went on a Memory Walk for our late and deeply loved relative, Mary Ellen Chifos, once my mother-in-law, Amanda’s grandmother, and the great-grandmother that Morrigan will never know.

We had been planning to do this since Mary’s passing in January, 2015, but, as I have been heard to say, life sometimes gets in the way of actually living. When the weather was fine enough for this outdoor activity, tasks and necessities intervened, as did major events such as buying and moving into a new home, cancer, surgeries, kidney stones, job changes, pregnancy, birth, new motherhood…. It didn’t matter. We knew that the Memory Walk would happen eventually, precisely when it was supposed to do so. At any rate, we knew that Mary, comfortable in the next realm, understood our delay.

And now, having completed this journey, I think it was all for the best that so much time elapsed between Mary’s passing from Alzheimer’s and the day of our Memory Walk, for in the intervening years, we’d released so much grief. We were finally able to recall with pleasure the lovely and gracious, spiritual, intelligent, and broad-minded woman who was in this lifetime Mary Ellen Chifos. Mary and Sadie_20190903_0001

We went to Brown County (Nashville, Indiana) for this event. Mary, you see, passionately loved this area. She felt that the State park and its surrounding environs were a little slice of heaven, divvied out by a gracious Divinity to enhance Indiana. Decades previously, she had actually moved to the location for a brief time during a personal crisis. Gathering up her little dachshund , she’d gone to live in a small apartment there. Only the dearth of available jobs induced her to leave Nashville and move back to Indianapolis. But she would, during the next decades, return to both the small city and the park over and over again, finding there the peace her soul sought.

So it was Brown County that her granddaughter and I chose to visit while recalling our lost one. We ventured out to the shops that she loved, ate at her favorite restaurant, The Hob Nob, and searched for but failed to locate the small art gallery that recalls so much of Nashville’s bohemian past as the Brown County Art Colony, the avant-garde collective formed in the 1920s. And as we rambled, we talked about Mary and remembered her as she once was, long before Alzheimer’s robbed her of her vivacious personality. We laughed and smiled, remembering, and occasionally felt the bright sparkle of a tear.

IMG_20190905_075648497I carried with me roses in varying colors, one for each decade of Mary’s life, and handed them out to random strangers along our way. Each rose was tied with a simple strip of paper explaining that these flowers were being given to the memory of our lost loved one. Mary adored flowers and grew them by the basketful; she would have approved the gesture, seeing the smiles put on the faces of complete strangers at being the recipients of an unexpected floral gift. The 84-year-old parking attendant, receiving the first rose, related to us that, at her age, there are few contemporaries left to mourn when someone passes.  A young clerk at one of the boutiques said she would save her rose to give that night to her mother, suffering from cancer.  The lady who helped us try moccasins on Morrigan’s chubby little feet, receiving her rose, was taken with the concept of the Memory Walk and said she couldn’t wait to share the idea.

Now that we have finally completed our Memory Walk for Mary, experiencing the way in which it revives special memories, I find myself wishing that others might take up the custom, proceeding on a Memory Walk for friends and family members they have lost. Perhaps they will find some small gift,  something special and pertinent to their loved ones, to bequeath to random strangers along their way, putting a smile on faces, lifting hearts, and substituting joy in the place of sorrow, for that is a true celebration of life.

And if it should happen that someone walks for me one day, I hope they will find a park, green and growing, but also filled with playgrounds for children—someplace simply  teeming with life and joy. I hope they will carry with them my favorite pink roses, one for each decade of my life, each one tied not just with a note stating my name, but with a luscious, deep, dark chocolate, the food with which I hope the streets of Heaven are paved.

But, above all, it’s my dearest hope that they will talk: walk and talk, remembering me; remembering me with laughter. Not with tears; never tears. With laughter.

 

 

Cathy’s Roses

§  The week that Cathy lay in a coma on life support in the hospital, I walked out on my patio one morning, and there before me were my rosebushes, astonishingly covered in buds.  §

A friend passed away a few weeks ago, dying suddenly and unexpectedly as a result of an auto accident. Saddest of all to those of us who knew Cathy from our Monday night meditation group was the fact that we heard too late about all of it: the accident, her hospitalization, and her passing. We learned of the tragedy only on the evening after it had all ended. Her family, burdened and dealing as best they could with unbearable stress and sorrow, perhaps not even knowing how to contact Cathy’s friends, hadn’t been able to reach out to us.  That was tragic, for we, the members of her spiritual family, would have been there to sit at the bedside and give them respite; to hold hands and gently rub tense backs; to bring cups of coffee and meals; to pray with them; and, at the end, to stand beside them as the terrible decision to remove life support had to be made.

It was mere coincidence that one of our number, stopping by to visit Cathy at home, had been told by a neighbor of the accident. Hurrying to the hospital, he arrived just a few hours after her passing. Instead of seeing her one last time, he, shocked and grieving, had to carry the dreadful news to us that night at our gathering.

That shock echoed within me for days. As I commented once when I had been spared a severe auto accident (The Sunflower Rescue, August 21, 2018), life often hangs in the balance on very slender threads.

But this time it was roses, not sunflowers, which caught my attention.

Cathy, you see, was an amazing gardener. A farmer for much of her life, she’d once planted 6,000 trees on her land. She often brought seedlings to share with us on Monday nights; just a few weeks prior to her death, she’d given me a half-dozen tiny coleus starts. I’d gone out in the rain that same evening to plant them in my flowerbed—and only a few days later, bitterly discovered that little brown bunnies had dug up every one of them and eaten the roots! (Damn you, little brown bunnies!)

The week just prior to her fatal accident, Cathy had been lamenting the vanishing honeybee colonies, agonizing about the fate of the planet as we destroyed our pollinators. Veering from that thread, I’d fussed about the condition of my beloved roses.

Unlike the talent Cathy had, I myself have absolutely no green thumb. I can grow only a few plants: roses, morning glories, coleus, violas. All the others take one look at me, turn up their toes, and die on the spot. I’d spent way too much money buying two small rock geranium seedlings in the spring, I mentioned to her, planting them around my mailbox; only one survived, and that by the skin of its little flowery teeth. But my poor Knockout roses….   Damaged by a polar vortex a few winters previous, they had never really recovered. Pollinators or no, they simply wouldn’t bloom. In the past two summers, my three plants had produced a total of seven blooms.

I tried everything. I fed them multiple brands of rose food. I aerated the roots. I watered them. I used insect control. I pruned them, talked to them, praised them, sang to them, prayed over them, gave them Reiki. Finally, I threatened them. Nothing worked; the bushes leafed out, but refused to bloom. The abundant rainfall of the spring had ended, anyway, and hot, dry weather had begun; I knew the bushes would go dormant, and be unlikely to bud again until the fall, if then. I doubted that my roses would ever bloom again after all this time.

“Come the fall,” I told Cathy, “I’m going to dig them all up.  I’ll plant new roses next spring.”

But the week that Cathy lay in a coma on life support in the hospital, before any of us her friends even knew what had happened, I walked out on my patio one morning, and there before me were my rosebushes,  astonishingly covered in buds. Buds on every branch. Even the sickest of the three bushes, the little one that had barely come back into leaf that spring, was budding.

I had been out to work on the roses only two days prior, and had seen no buds at all. But now my roses were literally singing with new life.

And on the day Cathy died, those buds burst into bloom.IMG_20190714_212144993 (2) Heavy, thick, rich blooms opened everywhere. Branches weighty with blooms and buds and new leaves threw out crazy, joyous arms in a dance of ecstasy beneath the sunlight.

Two weeks after Cathy’s passing, my roses were still blooming—still budding, still blooming even in the hot, dry weather. I strolled about my rosebed, praising them and thanking them.

As I told this story to the other members of my Monday night group, we all agreed: Cathy’s gardener spirit, wandering free of her damaged body, went walkabout; decided to heal my rosebushes; had paced around them, reviving them and stirring them into renewed life.

“After all,” one of our members laughed, with the tight, sad smile one pastes on while recalling humorous moments from the life of a lost friend, “Cathy never could sit still!”

Roses of the Soul

I often wonder why we Americans, claiming to value individuality, are so heavily invested in making others think just as we do.

This concept struck me forcibly once, years ago, when a supervisor at the office was polling female staff members on what he should get his wife for their anniversary. He was thinking roses.  But he wasn’t certain that would be impressive enough.

“Does she have a favorite color of rose?” I queried him. “White, for instance, or something unusual, like Tropicana?  Or even another favorite flower.  Lilies, orchids? Something that smells magnificent, like lilac or lavender? That might make flowers a more special gesture than just the same old red roses.”  I could tell by his face that the question of rose color or even other favorite flowers had never entered his mind.  He stood, mulling it over, when another coworker jumped in, exclaiming, “Oh, no, no!  Red roses! You have to get red roses!  Only red roses are right.”

“I like pink, myself,” I commented, “but these aren’t my roses. What does your wife like best?” I persisted to our supervisor. He wrinkled his brow and ambled off into his office to consider the question.  I never learned exactly what flowers his wife eventually received.  But my coworker could not let the subject go.  Determined to convince me, she perched on the edge of her seat and held forth at length about the perfection of a gift of long-stemmed red roses.  “There’s just something about a red rose….” she concluded, sighing, with a dreamy expression on her face.  Unconvinced and unimpressed, I shrugged and responded, “For you, that’s the right gift.  But his wife might like something else best. Me, I’d adore pink roses mixed with lilac or lavender. Those would be flowers worth having.  They’d mean something.”

My coworker rolled her eyes, and I dropped the subject, at least verbally. But the question continued to swirl in my mine.  Why, I wondered, couldn’t she just understand that there were other viewpoints than hers?  That my preference for pink roses, or his wife’s potentially different favorite flowers, were equally valid?

Yet there I sat, totally dismissive of her point of view, and just as determined as she that my own opinion was the correct one.

But that realization didn’t occur to me until much later.

This conversation was just one tiny blip in the annals of humans doing their utmost to convince other humans to think “just like me”. Extrapolated to further degrees, our attempts to force others into our mold include innocuous things such as debates, or all the way to the unspeakable atrocity of ethnic “cleansings”.  We welcome others into our country only if they dissolve into a “melting pot”. We claim to be open-minded, but strike people from our lives because they chose a different faith or no faith at all – or because of their skin color – or background and culture –or country of origin – or political party — or sexual orientation. We insist that our is “the one true faith”—or assert that faith itself is the cause of all the world’s ills. We bandy about titles like “conservative” or “liberal” as though they were obscenities rather than points of view. We claim to appreciate individuality, yet clearly despise those who choose to live an individual life, bounded only by their own understanding of the way in which life works.

Will we ever simply accept our individuality, or, even more unlikely, even rejoice in it? Is it possible that we will ever come to true appreciation of each other’s differences, be they spiritual, physical, mental or emotional?  That we might someday allow each other to appreciate all roses, red or yellow, pink or white?

I wonder, and, sadly, I look at the state of humanity, and I doubt.

But I still prefer pink roses.