My Rosebush


Amid carefully tended flowers in my garden grows my favorite rosebush. Its lanky branches are wild and useless. Too heavy to support themselves, they creep across the grass. My father and my husband have encouraged me on numerous occasions to pull out the rosebush, but I simply will not do it. It was a Mother’s Day gift from my son, Jon. *

I remember the day he gave it to me. At first, I thought Jon had forgotten that it was Mother’s Day because he left early that morning without saying a word. I wondered where he was. It wasn’t like him to totally ignore a holiday. In spite of it, I enjoyed church, the lovely gifts others in my family lavished on me, and the nice dinner they prepared.

Finally, late that night, Jon arrived home with a beautiful, blooming rosebush in a small pot. He had planned to purchase the rosebush and then go to church with me as a special Mother’s Day gift, but like so many of his grandiose and thoughtful plans, this one had gone awry. In his search for the perfect rosebush, he had lost his car keys and become stranded. I listened to his explanation as I read the handwritten note he gave me. He promised to go to church with me next week. Tears blurred my vision. His eager words weren’t empty promises; he really planned to keep them. But something always interfered.

I mothered that rosebush in its small pot for more than a year. I followed the detailed directions that had come with it; I took it into the garage during the winter; I shaded it when the Arizona * sun was too hot. And I never stopped praying, along with everyone else in my family, that Jon would someday flourish and bloom as I hoped the plant he’d given me would.

When we moved from Arizona back to my Wyoming hometown, I took the rosebush with me in the car. Jon stayed behind because he wanted to try being independent. Since Wyoming was to become our permanent home, I planted Jon’s rosebush in our flower garden.

The first year, it did poorly—even though I fussed over it, read gardening books, and asked advice. I soaked the roots, fertilized it, and kept the aphids off it. I tried everything. It stayed alive, but it never flourished. Every time I tended it, I thought of Jon back in Arizona and prayed for him. He called occasionally and sounded confident: “Doing great, Mom. No problems.” But we worried. As I anxiously tended the rosebush, I hoped that next year it would do better.

In the fall, I pruned the rosebush back and packed manure around the roots to protect it. That winter was the coldest in forty years. I waited anxiously to see if my one special plant had survived. With my coat flapping in the whistling wind, I knelt in the snow and looked at the bare limbs of the rosebush. Was there any sign of life under the dirty snow? I couldn’t tell.

That winter I sensed that Jon’s life wasn’t going as well as he had hoped it would. Many a night, when the east wind blew and our windows rattled, I lay sleeplessly wondering if he was going to church, eating right, or still running around with friends who used drugs. Though Jon never told us in his phone calls, we felt that he was struggling with problems he could not handle. He sounded as though he was suffering from clinical depression. I reminded him that we loved him and missed him and that he was always welcome to come home. I told him we were willing to pay for him to get medical attention.

When spring finally came, my other rosebushes started sending out tiny red leaves, but my special bush stood bare and lifeless. I watered it by hand and brushed away the dead leaves that covered it, hoping that I could somehow revive it.

One afternoon, my father, who is an expert gardener, inspected my rosebush and declared it dead. He stamped his cane at the gnarled, brown stub and said it was time to give up and plant another bush in its place. But I didn’t.

That spring I increased my fasting and prayers in Jon’s behalf. I went more often to the temple and always put his name on the prayer roll. Then one midnight, we received a phone call. Jon had decided to come home. He didn’t tell us why, but that didn’t matter; we were just happy that he was joining our family again.

Not long after that, while working in my roses, I noticed a tiny green shoot poking its way out from deep under the roots of my special rosebush. Despite the odds, it had lived! I was so thrilled that I insisted my father come over and view the miracle growth.

“It’ll be wild,” my dad said. Patiently, he poked at the manure-covered shoot with his cane. “That growth is a sucker, coming out from below the graft, so it’ll never bear roses. You’d be better off pulling it up now and planting a new bush.”

“Never,” I said. Tears rolled down my face. It had survived the winter, though we thought it was dead. I couldn’t give up now.

So I continue to tend my rosebush. Often I work in my flower gardens early in the morning. I treasure the tranquil feeling that comes over me as I kneel in the grass, tend my roses, and pray for Jon. I am grateful that he is home. Our family’s prayers for Jon continue. We’re all glad he has come back. At least we don’t worry whether he’s eating or not. My motherly intuition tells me that something is still not right. My husband and my father remind me that Jon is young and that eventually he’ll mature and straighten up. I hoard the morning’s quiet pleasures. Too soon the heat and frustrations and challenges of the day will disturb them. But not yet.

I rest for a moment and watch the pink sky brighten. Early mornings are so special that I wonder why I hated them as a child. I spent my thirteenth summer at my grandmother’s house in Preston, Idaho. I wanted to eat raspberries, swim in the canal, and read books, but my stern grandmother insisted that I tend the roses, pick the strawberries, and learn to sew. I used to hide under the covers and pretend to be asleep as I heard my grandmother making breakfast. She called to me to come outside and work in her garden, but I ignored her when I could and let the clicking of her pruning shears and the rustling of the bushes lull me back to sleep.

When I had to work in the garden, I complained. Yet talking to my grandmother as the sun spun its way across the sky, I came to love her. In the garden, she didn’t seem so austere and forbidding as she usually did. She told me of her love for my grandfather and how she had never given up on him, though for years he was not a member of the Church. Her eyes grew misty and she smiled as she told me that the happiest day of her life was the day Grandfather took their family to the temple to be sealed.

Working in my garden reminds me of my grandmother and of her faith in my grandfather. The clippers cramp my hand as I prune my wild, overgrown rosebush. I carefully lay the branches in a neat pile. A blast of loud music from a radio in Jon’s room in the basement startles me, but it is quickly squelched and quiet reigns again. Jon will be getting up soon.

By the time I finish pruning, the sun is up, warm on my face. The pile of branches is higher than I’d expected it to be. My hands and arms are scratched and torn as I force the thorny limbs into a garbage bag. Several strong thorns have pierced my hands, and they are bleeding. I hear a bird call as I kneel on the grass, and I wonder if birds feel anything as they watch their babies fly for the first time. My heart is as sore as my hands, and I know the heat will soon be so intense that I will have to go in.

I hear Jon’s motorcycle as he roars off to work, and I rest for a moment. My tears drop like rain as my heart follows him. Then I remember my grandmother. I remember watching her graft a branch from one of her most beautiful rosebushes onto an old, half-dead bush. Her voice echoes to me from years ago. “I won’t give up on this bush without a fight,” she had said to me on that long-ago morning. “It’s too precious not to try to reclaim.”

The sun stretches out from its mountain bed and showers its rays across me as I kneel next to my own special bush. I wonder if I can graft some branches from some of my father’s rosebushes onto the unproductive bush Jon gave me. Maybe then it could be productive. Perhaps my father’s garden even contains some roses that are descended from those in my grandmother’s garden. I close my eyes and see my grandmother working industriously in the dawn, tending her fragrant roses. I wonder if others tried to convince her that roses would never grow in Idaho’s arid soil. Did others ever suggest that Grandfather would never change during all those years that he was not a member of the Church? Did Grandmother listen to them? Or did she keep working and praying and hoping?

I don’t care if I’m not practical. I don’t care if we pray for miracles that to some seem unlikely. I’m going to go to my dad’s garden and cut some starts from his roses. I will not give up on my special rosebush.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

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    Note

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    Names and places have been changed.