The azaleas that were in full glorious bloom a couple of weeks ago brought back wonderful memories of my mama, Bessie.
Every year when she was alive, I would be sure to take her for a drive when the pinks and fuchsias of these beautiful bushes would have her ooing and ahhing, trying to point out each group of blossoms that was more beautiful than the one before.
Another reason she loved that time of year was because when the azaleas bloom, May is not far behind.
While we lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina, May was when my mama went into her farmer’s daughter mode.
She would read her “Farmer’s Almanac” to see when the signs were right. Once they were, she would make a call, and soon a farmer, a mule and a plow would be working laying out rows in the large lot that lay behind our house.
We lived in town but were fortunate to have enough land for my mom to have a huge garden that supplied wonderful vegetables that would last all year.
Mind you, Mama was also an employed lady. She worked in a men’s clothing store and she had a knack for combining the best looks for the men and college students who frequented the popular store.
To prove her sense of style, one only had to look at my handsome dad, Neil, who could have fit on the pages of GQ.
But when Mama left work on Wednesday afternoons in the small town that shut down after noon, she only took time to change clothes and then she was in the garden hoeing, weeding or whatever else needed to be done to keep the crop in good shape.
This meant keeping my children out of the garden.
My son Greg was once caught shooting a BB gun into her cabbage patch. The aftermath was not pretty.
And I have a special memory of her chasing our large black dog Baron out of the yard with a hoe after it had the audacity to lift a leg over one of these prized cabbages.
I was not allowed to work in the rows unless it was under her strict supervision.
She did let me pick green beans from the vine, but I was not allowed to pull the onions because I might remove them before they were mature.
My dad was raised on a farm like my mother, but it was not in his blood. He was a businessman and a book lover.
But when Bessie told Neil to plow the rows between the beans, he would be right behind his little power tiller, sometimes still wearing a white shirt and suit pants. Mama didn’t care much for waiting.
Unfortunately, my mom was correct in keeping me out of the garden. I did not inherit her green thumb, but I’m happy to say my daughter and two of my sons did.
Before she died, Mama loved to spend time in my daughter’s backyard which is literally an eden filled with lush tropical plants, fruit and fig trees and even a vegetable garden spot on one side of the swimming pool.
I think it made Mom happy to see her gift passed on to her beloved granddaughter.
By the way, you might think that this little woman — the one who loved to get her hands into fertile dirt — might go around dressed in denim and plaid shirts.
When Bessie was out of the garden, her bright flowered blouse would be coupled with a matching skirt or capri pants, her perfectly manicured toenails would peek out from a pair of strappy sandals and her dangly earrings would be color-coordinated with her outfit.
Yes, Mama and May were a perfect pair.