Jane’s Flowers


Based on a true incident
Dear mother, all flowers remind me of you. … I learn how to love them, dear mother, from you. (Children’s Songbook, page 202.)

Jane’s mother was a wonderful gardener. She could grow beautiful flowers even in a patch of rocky soil. “No matter how tired I get, working in the garden or just looking at a meadow of Maine wildflowers always perks me up,” she had once told Jane.

After Mama got sick, Jane picked flowers for her each day, filling her bedroom with forget-me-nots, daisies, lady’s slippers, and wildflowers of all the colors of the rainbow.

But then autumn came, and there were no more flowers.

“The frost killed the last flowers,” Jane whispered one day as she brought a handful of bright orange and red maple leaves to cheer her mother.

Mama took her hand. “When spring comes, Jane, remember to look at the flowers for me.”

Jane thought that the long Maine winter would never end. The house seemed so cold without Mama. Little Rose and Isaac had been sent away to Aunt Ellen’s. Father was grave and silent.

One day her father said, “Aunt Ellen has found a cousin of your mother’s who can come and keep house for us this spring. If she does, then Rose and Isaac can come home.”

“What’s her name?”

“Kate. Cousin Kate.”

Cousin Kate didn’t look much older than a girl. She was plump and wore her dark red hair in braids piled on top of her head. Rose and Isaac came home. They missed Mama, and so did Jane. But Cousin Kate cuddled Rose and Isaac and made them laugh. Even Papa smiled a little at her funny ways. But Jane still could not laugh.

Finally the beauty of spring touched the world. Mama’s daffodils came up; then the forsythia bushes burst out in bright yellow. There were new leaf buds on the trees. One night Jane caught the sweet scent of lilacs from the bush under her window.

But Jane only wanted to scream and yell at the flowers. How could they be here when Mama was gone?

One morning Kate said, “Jane, we must set about spring cleaning.”

Kate and Jane began a whirlwind of turning over mattresses and shaking out rugs. After the whole house had been cleaned, Kate said, “We haven’t touched your mother’s dresses. Come and help me go through them.”

Reluctantly Jane followed Cousin Kate into her parents’ room. Mama’s dresses still hung in the closet.

“We’ll put some of these dresses aside for you, Jane. Then you’ll have something of hers to wear when you’re grown.”

Kate began to sort through Mama’s dresses. Jane sat on the floor, holding a familiar red wool dress her mother had worn often to church. She felt the tears run down her cheeks and turned toward the window so that Kate wouldn’t see them.

Outside, Papa was just visible near the barn, and Rose and Isaac were playing near the garden. Kate had worked hard in the garden, and it was blooming with the promise of all kinds of flowers and vegetables.

Jane looked down at the dress in her hands. She didn’t want to give it—or any of them—away. They would help her remember Mama during the long, cold winters when there were no flowers. Suddenly she had an idea. “Remember to look at the flowers,” Mama had said. Jane turned to her cousin and said softly, “Kate, could I have one of my mother’s dresses now, before I’m grown?”

Kate stopped and looked at Jane. “These dresses bring her back, do they?”

Jane nodded. “I want to make something to remember her by. I could make a quilt, but I’m not very good at quilting.”

“Did your mama teach you how to make rugs? She made some beautiful ones herself, with appliqué and embroidery.”

“Oh yes! Mama did teach me! I remember she said that if you knew how to make a rug, you could make any house into a home.”

“Well, let’s see,” said Kate, nodding her head. “The red dress you have there would be perfect. Here’s a black wool one too.” She smiled at Jane.

She understands how I feel, thought Jane.

The rug would be made from wool, so it would last. Jane began to plan its design—it must have lots of flowers!

Jane worked on the rug each summer evening. It was big—almost four feet wide and six feet long—perfect for in front of a fireplace or in the kitchen.

She filled the center of the rug with pictures of everything around her that summer: trees, their old cow, birds sitting on their nests in the apple orchard, her father riding his horse to town. She even put in their house, with its two large windows downstairs, four windows upstairs, and two big chimneys. She embroidered a beautiful starflower, and a dozen lovely hearts. In the very center she copied her mother’s favorite vase filled with a bright bouquet.

“You don’t have any more room in the center,” Kate laughed one evening. “Now what will you do for the borders?”

“Vines and more flowers,” Jane said.

“That’s quite a project for an eleven-year-old,” her father observed. “I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it in the whole of Maine.”

“Oh, Papa!”

“Well, in Wiscasset, anyway. It’s sure to win a prize at the Harvest Fair,” he said.

“Jane has put a lot of love and memories into the rug, and it shows,” Cousin Kate agreed.

Jane cut out over one hundred flowers to appliqué around the border. She used her mother’s brightest clothes. She embroidered curving leaves, vines, and flowers trailing up and down the sides of the rug. Each night when she went to bed, she had to shake her hand because her fingers were so tired and sore from holding the needle. But each morning she looked around her more eagerly, wanting to capture the beauty her mother had taught her to see.

Finally it was done. Cousin Kate helped her press it with a warm iron the night before the Harvest Fair.

They took the wagon to the center of Wiscasset to the big churchyard. Quilts and rugs and samplers of all kinds were already displayed.

Jane hesitated.

“Come,” said Cousin Kate, taking her arm. “Let’s enter it.”

“What have we here?” Mrs. Kingsbury asked.

“A rug made by Jane Gove, age eleven,” said Kate proudly, while Jane stood shyly to one side.

In the morning sunlight the bright cloth and the colored threads shone and sparkled on the black wool.

“Why it’s almost like being in a garden! You’re Mary Gove’s oldest, aren’t you? Your mother would be proud!” Mrs. Kingsbury exclaimed.

As they walked around the churchyard, looking at jams and jellies and animals and pumpkins, it was almost like being a family again. Cousin Kate couldn’t ever take Mama’s place, but Jane was glad that she had come to live with them. It was good to see Isaac and Rose laughing again. And Papa seemed to walk with a lighter step. But we haven’t forgotten Mama. She is still in our hearts.

After supper, the winners were announced. After seeing the display of needlework, Jane didn’t really think her rug would win. But suddenly she heard her name!

“For the 1845 Wiscasset Harvest Fair, first prize for needlework, the winner is Miss Jane Gove. This young lady is only eleven years old, but she has created one of the most extraordinary pieces of needlework our judges have ever seen!”

Although Jane grew up and made other rugs for her own family, she always kept this special rug. It stayed in her family for a long time, and finally someone decided that it should be seen by other people as well. It is now recognized as a masterpiece of American folk art and is displayed in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California.

As long as she lived, Jane kept the joyful memory of her mother in her heart. And she never forgot to smile each spring when the flowers came back to the gardens and meadows.

[illustration] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney Kawasaki

[photos] Photo of rug courtesy of Seaver Center for Western History Research, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County