I took an abiding interest in these words and their meanings and, with time, was able to provide an occasional word myself. I remember how proud I was when I figured out an answer all by myself and the praise I received from Mom for doing so. That interest in words has been instrumental in the academic paths I have chosen and in the writings I have produced throughout my lifetime.
Mom was also a gardener. I can still see her gloved hands as they plucked unwanted weeds from the soil or lovingly tended the roses that were so dear to her. I remember how pleased I was when she invited me to join her in her gardening tasks. I must confess, however, that as I grew into my teenage years, that pleasure waned considerably! Being assigned to weed the garden was no longer a pleasure, but simply a burdensome task that took time away from hanging out with my friends. Yet, the love of gardening instilled in me by my mother has turned out to be one of the great pleasures of my adult life.
| Amana Lily Lake with Lotus in bud
My more recent memories of Mom are oddly my fondest and the ones I have come to cherish the most. Although she was burdened with Alzheimer’s, barely able to speak, and residing in a nursing home, Mom and I forged an intimate bond that transcended any we had forged before. I would bring her gardening magazines and together we would drink in the beauty of the colorful blossoms that graced their pages. Mom sat transfixed, even during those times when her body grew uncontrollably restless and it seemed like she was ready to spring from her wheelchair. I would suggest a stroll down the nursing home halls, but invariably she would reach out toward the magazine as I put it down on the table. And so we would begin again.
On one incredibly beautiful autumn afternoon, I decided to take Mom outdoors for her first experience of the outside world since she had entered the nursing home. Our very first stop was at the rose garden out front. Together we caressed a blossom and savored its fragrance. Mom’s eyes widened and sparkled with delight.
| Milkweed pod and seeds in flight
We moved onto the asphalted path that encircles the Lily Lake and crossed one of its bridges. “Jetzt huppelt’s e bissel,” (“It’s going to be a bit bumpy now”) I said to her in our German dialect as we bumped across the slightly uneven boards of the bridge deck. “Ja,” she replied with a chuckle.
Just as we reached the other side of the bridge, my eye caught a milkweed seed as it drifted through the air on its silky parachute. I stopped the wheelchair to search for its origin. Less than five feet from where we had halted I discovered not one, but a whole patch of milkweed plants with their pods open to the sky. I picked one and took it over to Mom. She lifted a trembling hand toward the autumn treasure I had brought her and felt the fluffy softness of its contents. As I blew gently into the pod, launching dozens of glinting parachutes into the warm afternoon sun, she caught sight of them, as I had done, and giggled with glee.
Mom is gone now, released from the burdens of an unspeakably cruel illness. I will treasure forever the memories she and I made together. I wish her well on her new journey.
Crossword is the author's creation
Lily Lake photo courtesy of Jack Hahn
Milkweed photo courtesy of Wikimedia