March to the Sea
Grammie Rose’s beautiful, two story, white house with a verandah on the
back proudly sat facing the sea on our small island of the coast of
Maine. The Shelter Woods, a windbreak of evergreens, lovingly
protected the houses at Barney’s Cove from the strong prevailing winds.
One bright spring day, when all danger of frost was over and the salty
sea air held the promise of summer, Grammie called to me to help her
drag a burlap sack out of her basement. Being just a slip of a kid, I
probably wasn’t much help. But once the sack rested on the lawn, she
promptly emptied the dry clumps of dahlia tubers onto the grass.
Wrinkled and gnarled like witches fingers and dirty ones at that, the
tubers didn’t look like they’d be flowers some day to me. But the
dahlias knew. Purplish sprouts along the top of the shriveled tubers -
sort of like what happens on potatoes in the spring - foretold of the
miracle contained within. The sleepy Rip van Winkle tubers knew it was
time to rise and shine.
Grammie had a knack for growing a plethora of flowers, but dahlias were
her specialty. She grew the most beautiful dahlias of all the
grandmothers on Beals Island. Her dahlia plants were huge. Quite
possibly taller than my grandmother, who wasn’t quite five feet tall,
even in her black grammie shoes. The dahlia flowers themselves were
huge and every color of the rainbow. However, their scent left a lot
to be desired. When that much energy goes into sheer size, there isn’t
enough left to make them smell like a rose.
Every year since time immemorial, a line of dahlias had skirted the
perimeter of Grammie’s manicured front lawn like soldiers marching
towards the sea. The growing plants became a living, green picket
fence that separated her property from that of the neighbors. The
actual boundary lines were arbitrary blurs at best, as the land
on our island looked as if someone had upset a Monopoly game.
Grammie never broke apart the massive tubers before planting unless
they were too bulky to fit in their holes that must have measured a
foot and a half across. If she could catch an unsuspecting fisherman
on his way to the wharf below her house, she’d get him to dig another
hole or two to accommodate the new pieces. If she couldn’t add to her
parade of dahlias, she’d give the extra pieces to my aunt who lived
three houses and two hundred trees from us. She knew better than to
offer them to my mother. Gertrude Jekyll she was not. Our serendipity
flower garden consisted of one large clump of wild blue flags that
obligingly bloomed at the end of our walkway. Even they succumbed after
the plumber, who was hired to run water lines for our inside bathroom,
cut them down with a scythe thinking he was doing Mama a big favor.
After that, Mama laughingly joked that she couldn’t even grow wild
After grammie’s dahlia tubers were planted, only dry hollow stems poked
above the soil. Could flowers possibly grow from anything that looked
that dead? But after numerous daily visits, I discovered hundreds of
tiny green fanlike shoots peeking from the soil. Everyday they were
higher still like Jack’s bean stalk. The dahlias never did reach the
sky, but they did grow into some mighty plants.
Late in the summer hundreds of tiny, round, golden flower buds mingled
with the lush foliage just waiting to burst open.
This too shall pass as time has a way of marching on. Grammie’s once
immaculately maintained, white house with the verandah overlooking the
ocean now forlornly sits in disrepair of peeling paint, broken window
panes, and missing shingles. No longer protected from the winds and
harsh salt spray by the Shelter Woods, which has dwindled to just a few
lawn trees. No laughing grandchildren valiantly push a reel mower over
the emerald carpet of a lawn. No longer do the majestic dahlias march
to the sea.
But in my mind’s eye, I will once again watch in awe as the dinner
plate size dahlias are miraculously released from their tight, golden
orbs - one precious petal a time into blooms that could rival the sun.
~ Kay Seefeldt ~
[ by: Kay Seefeldt, Copyright © 2002, ( birdnest @ megalink.net ) -- submitted by: Kay Seefeldt ]
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