Sitting upon my hill the other day, my thoughts turned to peonies. Don’t ask me why, for I don’t grow them myself. The Contrarian is a demon with a weed wacker and if you don’t wall in any flower plant, he will take them to ground.
He has a special aversion to peonies and I can only assume he got in some big trouble in his past for having destroyed some by mistake.
In any case, no sooner do I think of peonies, than I think of my aunt Lona. For that is where I first discovered them, and in abundance.
We were a home of petunias and marigolds, a climbing rose, tulips. Funny how that is. My cousin Gloria, daughter of Lona grew alysslum a lot. When I see alysslum, I think of her.
Lona was one of nine children, and one of the older ones, next to Gram. After Gloria married and left home, Gram, who was a widow, moved in with Lona and her husband Harry. I’m not sure how that came about, but I rather suspect Lona asked from obligation (if indeed she did the asking), rather than desire.
The three lived on Thom Street in Flint, a typical city lot, narrow and short. It was a single floor home, with a coal chute for the basement furnace, a narrow drive, and a tiny garage at the back of the property. Coming from a three-lotted home, it was tiny, and a bit mysterious.
Lona was a quiet woman, competent in cooking and the usual housewifery skills. Harry was bombastic, fun loving, impulsive (which Lona definitely was not), and prone to love teasing. Gram was a man-hatin’ woman who I’m sure shed nary a tear at the early demise of her husband Joe, before I was born. There is a story of her being stopped heading down the basement steps, hammer in hand, after Joe for some malefaction he had allegedly perpetrated. Nobody ever knew what had happened that so broke their marriage, but it was from what I am told, a mutual hatred.
Gram was a feisty woman, a maverick, a liberated soul, long before the word liberation was used to denote women of a certain spunky grit who actually lived free and assumed they were equal to men. Whether Harry had other ideas about that stuff I don’t know, but he loved to bait and argue with Gertie as he called her.
The fireworks were always ongoing, no matter who might be around, but it all seemed in fun, everyone laughed, everyone knew Harry loved to get her goat. How things were between the three of them, I have no idea, but one got the impression that poor Lona, who was never controversial in anything, suffered much from the high emotion the other two seemed to run on.
I don’t recall an opinion Lona had on a single thing actually. She was a mouse, pretty, slim, always even tempered and pleasant. She was simply overwhelmed by the giant egos who inhabited her space. Later, after Harry died, and Gram was living with Dad, I think she evidenced some of the resentment she had lived with all those years. She had never done anything much she wanted to do, but had always followed the dictates of either Harry or Gram. Unfortunately her life was short at just the point when she had control of her own destiny.
In any case, from time to time as a child, I was sent to Gram’s for the weekend , and maybe once for a whole week. Gram worked days at various clothing stores, selling infant wear mostly. So my days would be spent with Lona.
She did her best to keep me occupied, but the house was not “kid friendly.” My reading material consisted of old copies of Readers Digest. Television was in its infancy, and daytime offerings were still non-existent.
She would sit down and teach me a cord or two on the piano, which I was always utterly fascinated with, and she made no complaint as I made small efforts to “play” it. (I have no idea how much of a bother I was, since she would never have complained.) I watched her cook sometimes, and I sat on the enclosed front porch, or skipped along the front walk, examining the driveway, and otherwise compared my home environs to this one.
Inevitably, I ended in the tiny back yard. No chair as I recall, but fencing ran along the back and one side. And along the perimeter of the property line, nothing but peonies (see, we finally got there!). There were red and pink and white ones.
They were awesomely beautiful to me, exotic, and so very much more in your face than the rather wimpy petunias of my yard. They smelled luscious. They were bigger than life. I would watch the ants crawl over the unopened buds, and learned that somehow the ants helped the buds so not to pick them off. I would examine each in turn, marveling at the color and fragrance, and lush greenery.
I never saw a peony from that time forward when I didn’t think of Lona. Such a nice woman, so gentle and kind, so unassuming. It’s weird, but I really miss her and Harry, more than most of my other now dead relatives. But I feel sad, for I know now that she never got to be herself. Whoever that might have been. I’m sure she is free now. I’m sure she is authentic now.
It all makes me think that the lesson is simply, don’t wait–be who you are today and everyday. I’m thinking I may just buy me a peony this year, and fence it off from the weed wacker’s bite. And when it blooms, I’ll think of Lona and smile.