The very first time I stopped to talk to Henry, and to watch him prune, clip, pinch faded blooms, he showed me one of his prizes, the Natchitoches Noisette, which had been grown from a clipping found near an old fort that went back to the 1700s. Its cupped pink flowers smelled, he said, of myrrh. I was enchanted: who had an inkling of the odor of myrrh? I went straight home and wrote of the rose to my mother, and that was the beginning of my correspondence garden.
Did she visualize rosebushes against a wall? Did she repeat their names? Did the thought of them take her back to her girlhood in East Texas, not unlike our part of Louisiana? Or did I only hope that at the least she was not sorry to receive my letters?
In January, in a blustery wind the week after the funeral, I'd bought a box of heavy notepaper at the Belle Vue gift shop. Soon, I would need another. Getting out a sheet, I saw that my hands were so damp I'd be bound to smudge the ink. I wiped them, and then, giving in, turned the window unit to high to dry myself, cool myself, enough to write. First lifting my arms over my head to dry the undersides, then leaning over to get the back of my neck. I held a cube of ice to my cheek. Dear Mother, Dear Mother. The sweating wasn't only from the heat. Part of it was from the effort of dissembling, at the age of forty-three, as if I were a child of ten lying about her friends, her grades, what her teacher said.
I worry about you and Daddy in the dreadful heat. I hope you are managing. And what of your poor yard?
My roses all flourish in our heat (even if we don't) because they get plenty of moisture and the nights are cool. I have added a new rose, over against the west wall, where there was a break in the bricks and where the soil seemed a little thin, an English hybrid called Queen of Denmark. Silk-soft, pale pink, it perfumes the air wherever planted.
Did I mention to you I got a spot on my favorite linen dress' An ivory Moygashel with a square neck and gored skirt. I used a bit of soap and cold water, and hope to be able to wear it to White Linen Night. This is a fund-raising event for all the Old Metairie garden clubs, and a very nice social evening to which a young widow like myself can feel comfortable going alone.
Birdie - as I believe I told you Robin is calling herself - is taking cello lessons this summer. Such a good thing, for a girl to have a musical proficiency.
Please take care of yourself and Daddy.
One Violet Lane
I was on my way to take a shower when the phone rang. 'Hello,' I said, trying to sound upbeat. Every call was a potential job.
Daddy. My daddy. 'Hi,' I answered, trying not to choke on the word. This was an old routine. Daddy and Mother, on some trip abroad, had found a card in a hotel room translating Good Morning into French, German, and English: Bonjour, Guten Tag, Hi. They'd thought that a good joke and shared it with my sister and me. A half century it seemed ago, when the world was young. I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand.
Maybe he was doing the same. Families weren't supposed to divorce one another.
'Your mother',' he began, then coughed a bit, cleared his throat.
'How is Mother doing?' I blew my nose.
'She wants you to come for her birthday. You and?' He coughed again.
'Birdie,' I reminded him, the new name my daughter had adopted. What her daddy had called her, when he had. I'd mentioned it in January, but how could it have registered at such a time? Robin, her given name, was what my sister had longed to be called - a movie-star name, she'd said, a fashion-model name. She'd never liked hers, Terrell. In school her teachers had thought it a boy's name or called her Terry. Her married name, Terrell Hall, she claimed, sounded like a freshman dorm. I'd given her my daughter's name as a gift, but by then it hadn't mattered.
Excerpted from Ella in Bloom by Shelby Hearon Copyright 1/1/01 by Shelby Hearon. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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