Roses Twice


Roses Twice

Since Dad’s death, when Jared and I were four and five, Mom had been denied the luxury of sentimentality. There had always been so much work, so many worries, so much pressure. That’s why I was surprised after my mission to discover that she had kept the roses. I had just assumed that she had tossed them out with the wilted lettuce, the table scrapings, the cantaloupe rinds, and a host of other disposables. They were, of course, dry and brittle, mere shells of their former, fragrant selves. But there they were, wrapped delicately in the green floral paper, laid in the white oblong box, and endowed by her touch with a tender timelessness, completely impervious to the persistent onslaught of age.

In the beginning Jared and I had gone to Brother Palmer’s floral shop fully intending to send roses to the twins, girls who had earlier taken us to the Easter dance.

We pushed open the glass door with the “Yes, we’re open” sign displayed prominently on the inside. As we did, a silver bell tinkled a cheery welcome, and a wave of intoxicating flower perfumes enveloped us.

“Well, how are the handsome Hansen brothers today?” Brother Palmer called out to us as he saw us enter. We closed the door, stepped into the cool interior, and basked in the fragrance.

Brother Palmer was wearing a white shirt, open at the neck, and a pair of green faded slacks that hung low on his ample hips and supported a stomach bulge that buried his belt buckle and most of his belt. A disarming smile cut across his round perspiring face, the corners of his eyes crinkled in happy welcome, and his bald head, laced with several thin strings of graying hair, shone brightly.

He had been watering and pampering two enormous ferns he kept hanging above the counter, but when he saw us, he set his watering can on the floor, wiped his hands on the front of his shirt, and ambled toward us with an outstretched hand.

Jared and I smiled a greeting. We liked Brother Palmer. He got a little preachy at times, but under all his paternal advice and cautions, he was a good man. He was also our home teacher and had been for as long as I could remember. Mom appreciated him too. In fact, he was the only exception to her strict rule of absolute self-reliance. She would allow him to assist us as long as he disguised his service and kindness enough for her to maintain her pride.

Though Mom was a widow, she was fiercely independent, never one to run to the bishop or the Relief Society for help, refusing anything remotely resembling a handout. Ever since Dad died, she had been supporting us single-handedly. She had worked her way through college, raising us at the same time, and after graduation had finally found a teaching job. She had been working at it ever since.

“We need some flowers,” I announced to Brother Palmer, glancing about his shop, intrigued by his jungle of ferns, flowers, and creepers, mesmerized by the yellows, blues and myriad shades of red that surrounded me. I loved coming to Brother Palmer’s shop because it was like stepping into a giant, magical terrarium.

“How’s your mother, Jarom?” he asked me, ignoring my request and tugging on his sagging pants.

I pushed my hands into my pockets and nodded. “All right, I guess. She manages to stay busy.”

“I suppose she would with two boys like you to look after.” He eyed us sternly. “You treating her all right?” Jared and I nodded. “No back talk? Not too much complaining?”

Our faces colored just a little. “Well, not much,” Jared mumbled.

We were used to Brother Palmer’s interrogations, and we knew he would never talk about our flowers until he had made his inquiries. And it made no difference to him that he had seen us only two days earlier at church and had asked us other questions then. He never let an opportunity pass without inquiring about our welfare.

“Has anyone plowed your garden?”

“Brother Parks is letting us borrow his tiller,” Jared explained. “Jarom and I should be able to take care of it.”

“I have a few extra seed potatoes and tomato plants. I’ll run them over to you tomorrow.”

I grinned. “You always just happen to have a few extra ones. Just enough to plant our garden. You’d think that after all these years you could estimate a little closer than you do.”

Brother Palmer raised an eyebrow. “I estimate all right.” He rubbed his double chin and said, “Tell your mom that my wife will pick her up for leadership meeting tomorrow night.”

“We’ll tell her. And by the way, we’re having our family prayer and home evening too,” Jared grinned knowingly. “Now, what about the flowers?”

Brother Palmer plucked a dried leaf from his pet fern and dropped it into the garbage can behind the counter. “I’m just doing my job.” He heaved a sigh. “One of these days I’m going to meet your dad, and the first thing he’s going to do, even before he so much as shakes my hand, is ask about your mother.” He stared out the front window into the street without really seeing anything out there. “I remember when he courted her. I was in the temple when they were married. Your dad loved your mom.” He slapped his hand on the counter. “Now, when I meet him, I want to be able to give him a good report.” Brother Palmer cleared his throat. “I hope you two have some good answers for him too.”

His eyes twinkled, and he stepped behind the counter. “Now, what did you have in mind? Something for Mother’s Day?”

“Mother’s Day?” I asked, glancing over at Jared. “Is it Mother’s Day?”

Brother Palmer forced a cough. “I’ll bet you don’t forget dinner very often,” he muttered. “And it looks like your clothes have seen a washing machine lately, no thanks to the two of you.”

“Mother’s Day isn’t this Sunday, is it?” Jared asked.

Brother Palmer nodded. “That gives you five days.”

“We’ll have to get Mom a card,” I said to Jared. “Let’s not forget.” I turned back to Brother Palmer. “We’re taking the twins out to dinner this Saturday. We want to take them flowers when we pick them up.”

“Very romantic,” he remarked dryly. He stared at us a moment without speaking. He took a handkerchief, wiped his brow and the top of his head, blew his nose loudly. “Card for your mother; flowers for the twins,” he mumbled.

“Huh?” I asked.

He shook his head slowly and stuffed his handkerchief in his back pocket. “Nothing. Just thinking with my mouth open. I have carnations and daisies,” he said gruffly. “If you want I can even gather up some dandelions.”

Jared and I laughed. “Actually we had something a little more impressive in mind. Do you have roses?”

“Not for the twins,” he said bluntly.

“Huh?” I grunted.

He grabbed a rag and began polishing the counter. “Nope, boys, I have flowers for all occasions, but you have to fit the flower to the occasion. Now for your special occasion,” he said with not a little sarcasm, “a bouquet of daisies or dandelions will do just fine.”

“Come on, Brother Palmer, we’re trying to give you a little good business,” I said, not sure whether he was joking with us.

“You’re forgetting,” he said, jabbing a finger at me, “that I’m your home teacher first, your florist second.”

“I don’t get it,” Jared said.

Brother Palmer shook his head and began to explain as though this were the one hundredth time he had gone over it with us. “You don’t give roses to just anyone. You spoil the effect if you do. Now, I don’t know the twins. Maybe they’re good girls, but I suspect that they’re too young for roses. Maybe in a few years they’ll be old and wise enough, but not yet. Have you ever given roses before?” We shook our heads, utterly confused. “Then don’t start on the twins.” He sighed. “You can send a million carnations to almost anyone. But be careful when you send roses.”

“Brother Palmer,” I moaned.

“What will it be,” he demanded, “daisies or dandelions?”

“Roses.”

He wagged his head. “Not for the twins.”

“Brother Palmer,” I protested.

He shook his head adamantly. “I do have a good deal on roses for Mother’s Day,” he added quickly. “I don’t sell Mother’s Day cards, though.”

“Mom doesn’t even like roses. She’s too practical,” I declared. “If you can eat it, wear it, or put it in the bank, she’ll like it, but roses are just for beauty’s sake. To Mom that would be a waste.”

“Yeah,” Jared agreed. He thought and then added, “She does like potted plants. She keeps some around the house, but roses would be a waste of money because you just throw them out after a few days.”

“I know,” I called out, “we’ll get a potted plant and some roses.”

“Who gets the roses?” Brother Palmer asked. “The twins. Mom likes potted plants.”

Brother Palmer shook his head. “I don’t sell that combination.”

“But we’re getting the plant for Mom.”

Brother Palmer eyed us, the disappointment obvious. “Why not roses for your mom, the plant for the twins?”

“It’s not the same,” I complained. “Roses are …” I groped for the word.

“You’re right,” Brother Palmer said quietly. “It’s not the same. There’s a message that comes with a rose. It doesn’t come with any other flower.” He looked at us. We avoided his eyes and stared at the floor. “Don’t send that message to anyone until you’ve first sent it to your mom. Otherwise you spoil the effect. Once you’ve sent roses to your mom, you’ll know when to send them to someone else.”

“But Brother Palmer,” I complained.

“I have a good deal on a dozen roses for Mother’s Day,” Brother Palmer said, straightening up with determination. “Long-stemmed roses.”

“A dozen roses!” I choked.

“Roses come in dozens. Otherwise that magical impression is lost.”

“But we were only getting each of the twins two.” “Well, if you overspent on your mother like you planned to overspend on the twins you’d have to buy her a hundred dozen roses, but since your mother is a practical woman, let’s settle for an even dozen.”

“We can’t afford a dozen.”

Brother Palmer held up both hands. “Calm down,” he soothed, “I’m going to give you a good deal and save you money too. You’ve already planned for four roses and a potted plant. We’ll trade in the potted plant for three more roses. You can take the twins down to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone, and with the money you save on dinner you can easily buy the other five roses.”

“But Mom’s not the type,” I tried to explain. “Roses are you know—romantic. They dazzle.”

“Then dazzle your mom,” he said with quiet seriousness. “Don’t you think your mom would like that?”

We laughed. “You don’t know Mom.”

“No, you don’t know her,” Brother Palmer said warmly. “You think because she’s worked her fingers raw and grown gray that all she cares about is washing dishes, cleaning house, and putting food on the table for you. Well, I’ve got news for you. She doesn’t do a lot of things now, but not because she wouldn’t like to. Now she won’t tell you that, and it’s too bad I have to, but it’s better that I tell you than that than that you never learn. You don’t think anything of sending roses to the twins, and what have they done for you? Took you to a dance, smiled at you in the halls, tickled your vanity. And you were going to send roses to say thanks for that? Daisies or carnations perhaps. Roses never. Oh, the ignorance of youth.”

“Roses for Mom?” I asked incredulously.

“I’d sure hate to be in your shoes when you meet your dad,” Brother Palmer remarked. “You’ll have a hard time convincing him your mother didn’t like roses.”

I stared over at Jared, and he glanced my way. There was an annoying twitch in the pit of my stomach, the nagging by-product of a guilty conscience. Brother Palmer was right, and yet I surely had my mind set on dinner with the twins. There was no way we could do both.

Brother Palmer watched us fidget and fret. Finally he said, “Of course, you could always run down to Timmerman’s Floral. I hear he sells roses to anybody for about any reason. But then, he probably won’t ever meet your dad either.”

Glaring at the ground, I dug into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jared doing the same. “All right,” I mumbled, “a dozen roses.”

“It’s for Mother’s Day, not your funeral,” Brother Palmer remarked. “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

“Brother Palmer,” I cried out completely exasperated, “you just talked us into it. Are you going to try to change our minds now?”

He placed his elbows on the counter and held his head in his hands. “Don’t do it for me. Do it for your mother.”

Reluctantly we counted out our money. All I could think about was the dinner I would never have with the twins. I slid the money toward Brother Palmer, who ignored it completely.

“The roses will be ready Saturday afternoon,” he said as we turned and dragged our feet toward the door. We pulled the door open and the tiny silver bell tinkled softly. “Boys,” he called to us, “I’ll wager that in ten years you won’t even remember the twins’ names. If you can, come back and get a full refund. That’s a Palmer guarantee.”

The roses were forgotten until late Saturday. Most of Saturday we spent at the district track meet, trying to qualify for the state meet the following week. Unfortunately, neither of us quite made it. All we accomplished by going was pulling a hamstring, twisting an ankle, and acquiring a stinging sunburn. As soon as we stepped off the bus at the high school, all we wanted to do was go home, take a long bath, and drop into bed for about 48 hours. We forgot all about the roses until we passed Brother Palmer’s shop on our way home.

It was several minutes past closing time, but the place was still open, and Brother Palmer was waiting for us behind the counter next to our pile of money and a long white box, neatly wrapped with a giant red bow and ribbon.

Guiltily we shuffled in with our sweats tucked under our arms and presented ourselves before Brother Palmer. He eyed us for a moment, and then a faint smile pulled at the corners of his mouth and he said sheepishly, “I twisted your arms pretty hard the other day. I apologize. If you’ve changed your mind, you can take the money. Or the roses. Or both.”

We shook our heads and reached for the box. “You can take the money too, if you’d like,” he said, pushing it toward us.

I grinned tiredly. “And what do we tell Dad?”

Brother Palmer chuckled and nodded. “You better tell him you took the roses.”

I opened the door. “Boys,” he called out, “you have a good mom. Some day you’ll find good wives. But you’ll have to look pretty hard and be pretty picky before you’ll find one as good as your mom. The next time you order a dozen roses, you’ll begin to understand what I mean. You’ll be glad you gave your first dozen to your mom.”

When we finally arrived home, stumbled stiffly up the front steps and pushed open the front door, the smell of stew and baking biscuits greeted us. It wasn’t until then that I realized I was just as hungry as I was tired. But I didn’t notice that the carpet was vacuumed, that the furniture was dusted and polished, and that I had freshly pressed shirts in my closet. Nor did I take note of the warm, loving security permeating the homey atmosphere.

“Is that you, boys?” Mom called from the kitchen. “I’m running a little late. Supper will be ready in a few minutes. Why don’t you wash up and come in and tell me how things went at the meet. I’ll bet you’re exhausted.”

We tiptoed into the kitchen. Mom was hovering over the stew on the stove. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom,” we called out. She turned around, her face flushed and her hands wet. I held out the roses and pressed them into her arms. She stared down at the box, too surprised to respond. I laughed and wrapped her arms around the box. “It’s all right,” I grinned. “It’s not a trick. They’re real, and they’re for you.”

“We didn’t qualify for the state meet,” Jared remarked, “but we did remember Mother’s Day—with a little help.”

Mom looked shocked, almost scared. Jared pulled out a kitchen chair and gently pushed her toward it and helped her sit down. With her eyes wide with anticipation and her hands trembling, she fumbled with the bow and finally pulled the lid off the box. A rich rose fragrance filled the room. Hesitantly, she pulled back the stiff, crackling green floral paper and gazed inside.

For a long time. she just stared, unable to touch or smell the roses. She didn’t even move. Then a tear glittered in the corner of her eye, soon crowded by another and another until a gentle flow of tears washed down her cheeks.

“I didn’t think I’d ever get another rose,” she whispered, dabbing at her eyes with the corner of her apron. “They’re beautiful. Just beautiful.”

Setting the box on the table, she stood and went to her bedroom. She returned a moment later, choking back her tears and holding out a plain, white vase. It was one she had always kept on her dresser, always empty. More than once I had wondered why she had kept an empty vase there. It was not pretty. There was nothing unique in its features or design.

“Your dad gave me this when he sent me my first dozen roses, the night he proposed to me. Every year on our anniversary he would give me roses for my vase. Never a dozen, but always some roses.” She swallowed. “Now I’ve received a dozen roses twice.”

A smile of expectancy touched Mom’s lips and lighted up her face. Suddenly she was like a school girl, receiving her first bouquet. Carefully she took the roses from the box, one at a time, and arranged them with tender perfection in the white vase.

That night the stew and biscuits burned. Mom was embarrassed because that was something she rarely did, but Jared and I smelled the roses and ate the stew and biscuits anyway, without comment or complaint.

Five years later, looking down at the dried and faded roses, I was filled with poignant warmth. The roses brought so many things to my remembrance. Of course, I remembered Brother Palmer, and I was grateful for his far-from-subtle prodding. But mainly I remembered Mom. I remembered the clean sheets, the pressed shirts, the thousand meals, the clean home, and the baked chocolate chip cookies. I remembered the late nights when she had waited up for me and listened to me. I remembered the pride in her eyes at each of my ordinations. I remembered her face aglow with quiet excitement at my seminary and high school graduations. I remembered the second job she took, cleaning the seminary building evenings, so that I could go on my mission. I remembered the weekly letter I had received from her every Wednesday of my mission, and I wished then that I had sent a hundred dozen roses.

I smiled, realizing that I no longer remembered the twins’ names. But, oh, how well I remembered Mom!

[photos] Photos by Grant Heaton