The only thing that my mother (Catherine n my O’Shaughnessy stories) loved more than tending her flowers, like I describe In this short story, was her annual Memorial Day visits to put those flowers on her family gravesites. I write about Catherine agonizing over those decisions in the first chapter of “Strawberry Summer. Catherine’s Memorial Day visit was actually based on Mother’s real life actual visits each year. 

My mother, Laura, and her sister Alice each milked five cows by hand, morning and night. They’d then harness old Bess to their buggy in good weather and to their cutter in bad to drive two miles back and forth to school each day. They rode horseback for pleasure and business and helped with each summer harvest. Laura and Alice were farm girls—and they loved the country life.

Much had changed in her life by the time she retired at sixty-five, but she never lost her love for the land. Her greatest joy throughout her retirement years came when she planted her flowers in the spring and tended them throughout the summer.

She wrote poetry and quilted all winter and spent her days in the garden during the spring, summer, and fall months.

When young, she loved all flowers, but her favorite was the wood violet. She began writing poetry much younger, but as a twelve-year-old, she wrote the following about her favorite flower:

Wood Violet

Little wood violet, dainty wood violet,
Hiding away in the shade.
Why keep away from the world so gay?
’Tis a silent part you have played.

Down in the cool moist soil you send
Your roots to get food for your flower.
And your face upturned to the branches above,
Who gaze at you, hour by hour.

Dainty wood violet, modest wood violet,
Blue as the ocean’s deep.
Now I know why you stay hidden away,
This hue, so rare, you would keep.

Shy little violet, don’t cry little violet,
Of all flowers you are the queen.
For the rarest flowers in this wide, wide world,
Are born to blush unseen.

Little wood violet, dainty wood violet,
Hidden away in the shade.
To me you are beauty, joy and life,
Like everything God has made.

Mother loved wood violets throughout her life, and they proliferated beneath her trees and higher foliage. Perhaps it was because violets thrived on their own with so little care that her attention turned to her lily beds during her later years.

Each winter, she eagerly searched her catalogs for a new variety she could add to her ever-expanding lily beds. She planted tiger lilies to begin; she then added pink lilies, apricot-hued lilies, snow-white lilies, pink lilies with maroon spots, deep purple lilies, orange and purple lilies, and, of course, the Easter lily. If she thought it could possibly grow in our northern climate and soil, she’d give it a try.

Laura Fitzsimmons

Before the time she left her home forever, she’d thrust a newly dug lily plant at me each time I visited, hoping I could provide a long life for her plants. Although Mother has been gone for eleven years now, her lilies grow in our yard—tended by my wife along with our other flowers.

Mother would be happy that we helped sustain the immortality of her beloved plants.