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Naked Ladies

An old wives tale:
It’s not proper to thank those who share flowers from their gardens — instead you are to promise you’ll give the plants a good home.

The sweet elderly lady who lived behind us worked her flower beds daily. Mornings would find Jean toting around a bucket of water and a ladle as she lovingly gave drink to each and every plant. I’d often spend a half hour or more leaning against the fence listening to her talk about her flowers as if she were bragging about her own children. She regularly shared plants with her neighbors and my gardens are beginning to look like an extension of hers.

One autumn day she called to me while holding out a paper bag containing five bulbs. She said, “Here, you’ll like these.”

”What are they?”

“Some people call them Naked Ladies, but I call them Surprise Lilies.”

“What do they look like?”

“That’s a surprise” she said, followed by a wink and a grin.

Promising her I’d give them a good home I planted them at the foot of the old wooden wishing well my dad had built some years ago.

Dad’s days of building wishing wells had long been over. Suffering from the late stages of Parkinson’s disease and dementia he was confined to life in a nursing home. Dad had become a withered shell of the man he once was and he continued to deteriorate over the following winter months.

Mom visited him four times a week, every week. Dad was a coffee lover and I’d often bring him a cup with hazelnut creamer, or as he called it, “That good cream.” As the cold winter months began to diminish, so did his craving for coffee. He was now spending the majority of the day sleeping and exhibited little interest in anything else — he was slipping further away.

Spring arrived — I noticed something breaking through the ground next to Dad’s wishing well — Jean’s lilies, I’d forgotten all about them. Over the next several weeks the plants grew out strong and healthy, resembling daffodil stems.

Expecting the arrival of tall stalks bearing some kind of fragrant lily, I was instead puzzled to watch the plants quietly dry up and wither away. A disappointment to say the least. I was hoping to have something special to accent Dad’s well.

In July of that summer, Dad stopped eating and his body began to shut down. On the eve of his death he had a sudden burst of energy, which delighted those family members who had gathered there in his room. He smiled and interacted the best he could as the family talked and his granddaughters sang Amazing Grace.

The following day I was sitting at his bedside along with my sister and niece. As I spoke to him in the few words of Polish I knew his eyes and mouth opened unexpectedly and he stared somewhere beyond me. With an exuberant expression of surprise he reached out — grasping at the air with his fingers and trying to form words with his mouth. Then as if realizing it was just a dream, his short-lived moment of delight ended. His expression faded, he relaxed his arm, closed his eyes and soon after his breathing began to change.

Mom who was committed to remaining at his side had been persuaded to go out and get some lunch an hour earlier. It seemed as if Dad was waiting for her to return because when she did, she took his hand and he took his last breath.

The funeral was a moving celebration of his life and faith.

The following morning — reflecting on Dad’s life while trudging around my backyard I spotted something strange near the wishing well. Making my way over to it I discovered five tubular stems that had erupted out of the ground and produced crowns with multiple pink lilies.

Jean next door noticed me standing over them and she shouted, “SURPRISE!”

Then she told me that the old plant withers away only to be restored to life as a completely new and beautiful version of itself, and that’s the reason some people call it by another name — The Resurrection Lily.

Nothing could have been better timed or more poignant.

To preserve harmony with old wives and their tales, I never thanked Jean for the perfect plant to place at the foot of my dad’s wishing well — but in late July of each succeeding summer, I find myself thanking God for what that lily symbolizes.


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