Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Purple Irises, or More Than Zinnias

So many stories in my family’s history involve flowers. Peony, lilac, roses, and daisies immediately come to mind as characters in some of them. This particular story begins with a bed of zinnias, planted neatly inside an old tire in the front yard of my grandparents’ home near Riverton. My grandmother – her name was Virginia- was only able to keep zinnias alive, because they are hardy, tough flowers that grow anywhere - and they could survive her ten children, their pets, wild animals that ate the roots and bulbs, and sundry unruly neighbors who had turned her yard into a hardscrabble dirt path.

The years passed, and nothing but the zinnias bloomed. For a while it seemed that the world had turned against her. One of her sons, Joe, was accidentally shot and killed by his uncle in 1965. Then later, her kitchen wood stove exploded, burning her arm and badly injuring two of her children – my Aunt Donna and Uncle Tom. Her husband was often away, working in Baltimore or wherever the road led him, while she kept the family alive and happy in the holler.

Grandma was especially happy when I was born. I was the first grandson, and her favorite grandchild. I was so spoiled I wouldn’t sleep at night without being able to fall asleep in my Grandmother’s arms. I can still remember her long, auburn hair and her ever-present apron.
Soon my parents, Jake and Linda, had moved with my brother Matthew and I to Johnson Holler near Franklin. Our home was only ten miles from Grandma’s house, so we still visited pretty regularly. I was only five years old then, but I still remember my father coming home early from work one day in tears. My grandmother had died of a heart attack on the sofa. She was forty-three.

It wasn’t long after the funeral that somehow a wayward bulb found its way into the family cemetery and took root. None of us ever knew who had planted it, but it soon became a family legend. Before long, a bed of dark purple irises (that always smelled like grapes) spread its way out from Grandma’s grave and covered the cemetery. It makes me believe that my Grandma finally got her wish. She had something more than zinnias.

All these years later, I still hold the memory of my Grandmother to heart, and have always marveled at the masses of purple irises that now grow in the family cemetery on North Mountain. Over the years those flowers have spread down the mountainside into the holler, and now grow all through the old family homeplace. When my parents asked me what I wanted them to bring for my new home I bought in Morgantown, on the top of my list were some of those purple iris bulbs – so that I will always remember the magic there is in life, and that if you truly want something bad enough, it will come to you.

I Love you Grandma.


Lanny said...

That was an incredibly touching story of your grandmother. I am sorry that she died so soon. Irises, I've always thought irises smelled like purple kool-aid. Although, my mother never let us have kool-aid and we always had irises, so maybe it is the purple kool-aid that smells like irises.

Jason Burns said...

Hi Lanny! What amazes me about these irises is that I've never found any that smell exactly like them. It's a really deep, grape scent, and I'm always searching in the garden sections of stores for irises - and I'm usually disappointed when they don't smell the same.
Look for other flower stories soon! It's my way of celebrating spring.

Matthew Burns said...

Glad you made it over to blogspot. So much easier for me to read your posts on here.

Good story about Grandmaw Henry. I don't remember too much about her since I was so little when she died. Of course, like you, I probably know her better through stories than from actual memories. you probably have more memories of her than I since you are a little older.

Yes, those Iris' are unique. I'd say they are some kind of heirloom variety, and you probably won't find them in stores these day. Dig you up a few when you go home, a couple of bulbs are all you'll need.

Oh, and I just have to say tell me my stories are saccharin????? If that aint the pot calling the kettle black I don't know what is!

Jason Burns said...

That comment is all about you - it was not about me. Look to yourself.

Nance said...

Thank goodness. I am so glad you moved hereand I will look forward to more frequent posts.

Would you send me one of your Gramma's iris?

Iris are a special childhood memory for me, too. Especially purple Iris.

Jason Burns said...

Nance - once I get the iris, I will be happy to send you one. Send me your address.

Granny Sue said...

Good story, Jason. Life isn't all pretty, certainly, but it is those hard times that make great people. Like your Grandma.

Janet, said...

Hi Jason, I'm a frequent visitor of your brother's blog. I just hopped over for a visit. I loved your story about your grandmother and the irises. I have lots of irises, seems like you can't get rid of them if you tried. Most of mine are purple. My son built a sign for our old family cemetery up the holler and I planted some Iris bulbs under it, we may have them spreading over the hillside, too, before you know it.

Jason Burns said...

Hi everyone! I'm sure you'll be glad to know that I have the irises planted in the yard now!

If any of you want one of them, let me know.