Last summer, as I was working in the garden, I decided to thin out the Heleniums, commonly known as Helen's Flower. When I bought them the year before from Michigan Bulb, they were nice-sized plants in their little pots, but I had no idea how very large they would get!
As I dug and divided, I thought to myself how cool it would be to give some to my next-door-neighbor. Neither she nor her husband do gardening as any kind of hobby and aren't even remotely obsessed with it like I am, but they do plant the flower beds around their house and a few veggies in a small plot out back. I knew they'd find a spot for this one.
My neighbor's name is Helen.
When you live next to a gardening nut like me, you have to listen to me blather on about such intricacies about flowers like how you shouldn't plant two types of basil next to each other because they'll cross-pollinate. But I listen sometimes, too. I know neither one of them wanted to grow anything that didn't pretty much take care of itself. So not only did I find it amusing that I was giving Helen's Flower to Helen, I knew both she and Tom would embrace its minimal care requirements.
Helen, at times, worked three jobs. Goodness, that woman worked hard and you rarely saw her sitting still. One of her jobs for awhile was working at Dairy Queen and sometimes she would bring a cup or two of ice cream over to share with us. Chocolate for me, vanilla for Romie, because she knew what we liked. And her cookies! She knew I rarely baked cookies but I love to eat them, so when she was baking some for her kids and grandkids, she shared with us.
I'm having trouble writing this and getting my verb tenses to agree. You see, Helen lost her fight with cancer last night. It hasn't yet sunk in that I won't see her smiling face ever again. No more walks down the road, sharing life stories and solving the world's problems as we walked. No more sitting with her under the stars around the fire in the back yard, wondering if that bright star in the southern sky is really Jupiter. Life here in this little corner of northwest Ohio just made a major shift.
On Saturday, Romie and I worked in their front flower beds, cleaning out the weeds that had popped up in recent weeks. It seemed like such an irrelevant task, but it was something we could do and they couldn't, just now. No doubt it was something that didn't matter to them, in light of what was happening inside the house, but selfishly, it made us feel better to be able to do something.
As I crawled around the corner of the house on my hands and knees, I saw three small plants growing by the front door. It took me a second, but when I realized what they were, I sat back and said to Romie, "Oh my gosh. Look at that."
Last year, Helen and I were talking about the orange poppies that always grew and bloomed along the ditch bank at the end of our road, and how we both wanted to go dig some up to plant at our own houses. I'd dug some when we first moved here nearly 32 years ago, but not a single one survived. Poppies don't like to be moved. But we decided to try again.
Romie and I dug a few clumps, noticing that someone else had done the same thing before we got there. We brought them home, planted some, and gave the rest to Helen. She planted them right by her front door, in what looked like some of the worst soil that Paulding County has to offer.
Spring is now here, and not a single one of the poppies I planted has come up. Helen's poppies, however, are growing and no doubt will bloom. I just love this, but I would love it more if she'd be here to see them when they burst forth with their orangey goodness.
Helen shared some of her irises with me last year, too. At the time, I couldn't know that when they bloom in my garden this summer, I won't be able to run over to get her so she can come look. But I will offer up a prayer of thanks for her life and that I had the privilege of being her neighbor and her friend. I know she'll hear me. I believe she'll smile as she looks down upon not only the irises, but those orange poppies, blooming by her front step.
I will look at them too, and smile back. Helen, you live on in our hearts and in the flowers.
Iris photo by Debbie G.
Poppies photo by Richard North of Due North Photography
Thursday, May 7, 2009