Rose Remembered

Artist Sally Legg reminisces about her father and his roses in picture and in prose

“Stomp, stomp, stomp”— the sound I awoke to as a child during the warm months of the year. My bedroom window was situated just above the patio that my father crossed as he returned from the rose garden.

I can picture him with a bucket of roses and the grass on his shoes. He knew that the roses would be well-received by my mother but not the grass that the dew held to his shoes. So he “stomp, stomp, stomped” as he kicked the grass blades off before entering our kitchen.

People know my father as Maury Smith, the trial lawyer from Montgomery, Alabama. None of them have had the pleasure of knowing the personal side of him reserved for only our family. We are the beneficiaries of his love for us and his passion for roses.

My grandmother, my father’s mother, was named Rose, and I have always thought my father’s interest in growing roses might be related to his high regard for his mother, who died when he was young. I named my own daughter Elizabeth Rose.

Since I myself am not a rose gardener and live in another city now, I only have roses from the florist. They cannot compare to his mixed bouquets including favorites such as ‘Fragrant Cloud’ and ‘Queen Elizabeth’ mixed with other rose varieties from his garden. Purchased flowers never offer the blending of shades that seem to echo the palette of a Renoir painting since they are usually sold in single varieties.

Often the journey flowers make from the florist causes premature browning. Freshly cut roses continue to be beautiful as they pass through all stages, even when the final petals cling to the stems.

Over the years, a wide range of landscape projects have captivated my father’s attention. Curly willow and pussy willow were taken from my wedding decorations so that he could propagate them for future arrangements. At our farm, Rosewood, he takes pleasure in working in his vegetable garden and orchard. He is currently collaborating with a group in Montgomery to remove parking places and plant trees in front of the capital. Yet, for him, these pursuits are never regarded as highly as growing roses.

Memories of a house filled with the roses my mother arranged flood my mind. I also recall the times when roses bloomed in abundance and my parents delivered them to friends celebrating joyous occasions as well as those dealing with grief. Sharing flowers that are home-grown and nurtured is one of the most touching gifts a person can give.

When I am piddling in my yard or painting, my mind wanders, allowing me time to think about what really matters in our busy over-booked days. I have determined that we are so often focused on big events yet the small, daily pursuits are just as significant, if not more so. Certain repetitive characteristics and mannerisms are what we hold most dear about people we love—not splashy events such as parties and trips.

For this reason, I will always treasure roses, and bouquets will stay in my house past their prime as petals gather on tabletops. I shall continue to associate the love I have for my father with roses and will never forget those mornings I woke to “stomp, stomp, stomp.”

Story and Illustration by Sally Legg

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