For me, summer has always meant two things: the beach, and flowers.
I was very fortunate to spend almost every summer of my childhood – until I turned sixteen, actually – at the Jersey shore with my grandparents. That was when I had a bathing suit for every day of the week. Actually, I had two for each day, because we had different suits for the ocean and the swimming pool.
That was also when I fell in love with flowers.
My grandmother had the ultimate green thumb. She grew backyard roses from cuttings stolen from friends and neighbors, she had a table full of African violets that seemed to be immortal. My grandfather, on the other hand, retired from the Army and decided to become a gentleman farmer, or at least, as much of one as was possible in a suburban New Jersey back yard.
His specialty was fruit – strawberries the size of my fist, grapes in soil that you wouldn’t expect to accommodate grapes, crops of raspberries that began wild on the edge of the compost heap and eventually took over the back quarter of the yard – but he, too, loved flowers. More than that, he loved bringing home fresh flowers, and presenting them to my grandmother, my aunts, my cousins, and me. He was a completely unaffected man, and the flowers he brought to us – usually things like sunflowers or tall stems of gladiolas – were offered, not in pretty tissue paper or a fussy vase, but jammed haphazardly into a galvanized steel bucket.
The point is, every summer I was surrounded by fresh flowers. Those back yard roses came inside and were floated in bowls, displayed in bud vases, scattered through every room of the house. Those sunflowers perked up the bathrooms and greeted us from the kitchen counter, becoming as ubiquitous in our lives as Grandpop’s crock of sourdough starter that lived above the dishwasher.
As I grew older, I learned that a house without fresh flowers is just as dismal as a house without pets. When I lived at home, my mother would fill the house with greens (spider plants, wandering Jews, ferns) and buy fresh flowers from time to time, and I picked up her habit.
In my dorm room, I always had flowers on my desk, even if it was just a few stems of carnations in a drinking glass.
In my first apartment, I had a bud vase on every windowsill – it was a studio; I didn’t have counters space or end tables.
Twenty years ago, when I got married, my husband and I went through the same budget struggles all young couples experience as we learned to balance the freedom of living entirely on our own recognizance with the requirement that we pay bills on time, keep gas in the car, and have money for laundry.
We learned that we each have minimum requirements for happiness. For my husband, to this day, sunflower seeds and fantasy novels are essential for his well-being. I, on the other hand, become bitter and cranky when I don’t have frou-frou coffee and fresh flowers.
More than once, I have spent my last ten dollars fulfilling that need – buying a bouquet of irises, indulging in five bunches of daffodils, filling the house with carnations – because those small joys that bring summer into the house are the things that keep me going, even when I feel tired, frumpy, and boring.
More than once, I have also advised friends, even those who, like me, are freelancers who often have incredibly erratic pay schedules, that indulging in those small joys – a coffee drink once a week, a basket of strawberries from the farm stand on the corner, a bunch of fresh flowers from the grocery store – is what makes life worth living.
When you spend your last ten dollars on flowers, I tell them, you’re not really buying just the flowers; you’re actually buying hope. You may take home tulips, but you’re also taking in that carefree summer feeling.
Sure, the flowers may have cost ten bucks.
But the summer smile that spreads across your face when you see them every day for the next week?
Photo Credit (for the bucket of flowers): Copyright: fotogestoeber / 123RF Stock Photo
(Used with permission)
About the Author – Melissa Bartell
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