Blast from the past: Why I love iris
By 04/26/2001 00:00:00
Ellis County Press
It might be the warm, satisfying smell of baking bread, or the first few familiar bars of a song, or the sight of the sun streaming out from behind the only cloud in the sky.
Maybe even something a little more offbeat - like the way an auto shop smells inside, or the bitter taste of hard, green pears, or the supple smoothness of a fine suede coat.
But whatever it is, it's fleeting, momentary, and the feeling it stirs up is sometimes just beyond the reach of your mental fingertips -
'What was that?' you think. 'Why does it seem so familiar?'
It's pleasant, but so pleasant it almost hurts.
If you can, you linger - outside the auto shop, sniffing whatever that is - paint, grease, road dirt. Exhaust fumes. 'Why do I like that?' you wonder.
And then it hits you. Grandfather's auto upholstery shop and the idle hours of childhood summers filled only with unconditional love and a promise of ice cream.
It may seem like quite a leap to you, but in some ways I feel the same way about auto shop smells as I feel about iris.
Most of the year, they are unremarkable. Broad, flat, mealy-green leaves, browning at the tips as the summer drags on, sagging limply one upon the other under winter rain and ice.
But one spring day you spot that first promising stalk, fluid filled, bulging out roundly near the base of one leaf, reaching for the sky, and you know the flowers are coming.
Delicate as butterfly wings they open, letting their large, outer petals droop downward, feathery soft, fluttering in the breeze. Color hidden beneath color. Each blossom lasting only a few days. And each new bud opening bravely, one after the other, while sister beauties curl and wither and droop.
They don't last very long - a few weeks at the most. Some are fragrant, some are not. An ill-timed cold snap or relentless wind can steal away every one.
And when they are gone - they are gone. There'll be no more for at least another year.
They're pretty hard to kill, it's true. Leave a broken bulb lay unattended on top of your lawn in August, and in all likelihood it'll sprout up in March.
But the hottest part of summer is when they need the most care. You trim the leaves, eradicate the weeds, dig up the bulbs, separate them, replant them, spending sweltering hours on your knees with a trowel, some bone meal, and a bag of super phosphate.
But it's worth it - for that utter beauty, unmatchable, reminiscent of all things good.
There were beds of iris along the side of my grandmother's house - endless beds of pointy green leaves.
Right beside the pear trees with their hard, bitter, not-yet-ready fruit, an annual source of pleasure and stomachaches.
Right beside the pyracantha bush with it's tiny red berries that just fit into the round o-shaped mouth of an ancient baby doll - but would never come back out.
Around the corner was the black walnut tree whose produce we were allowed to flail away at with hammers for hours on end, picking out infinitesimal pieces of nut meat, too small to taste like much but well worth the effort.
And just inside the black screen door was a big, yellow, welcoming kitchen and two of the most important people in the world.
A grandfather who took us fishing, showed us how to tie flies (often using a strand of our own hair, the better to catch the fish), played a mean game of Yahtzee, gave us all his time, and lived his life according to his faith, however hard.
And a grandmother with a twinkle in her eye and a song for every occasion - including 'All the Quakers are Shoulder Shakers down in Quaker Town,' 'Tit for Tat,' and 'Ring me up Some Rainy Afternoon.'
A grandmother whose rich, comforting voice read passages from a well-used Bible every morning in that sunny kitchen.
And whose prayers for me ascend to heaven daily even now.
That's why I love iris - fragrant, fragile blossoms that last no longer on the face of a year than the flush of youth on the face of a life.
Glorious, brilliant blossoms that burst forth anew each spring from humble plants, nearly impossible to kill.
Fragile, fleeting, glorious, heavenly, down-to-earth reminders of something past that can never be lost.