Picking bluebells is the reason I’m here in the woods. The sun is hot for the time of year but very welcome. The birds are twittering all around, too high up to identify. I really should have learned the different birdsongs. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had the opportunity. I’d spent five years walking my retriever across fields and through the forest, watching him dive-bomb the bushes looking for rabbits or wading into streams looking for fish. I’m sure he knew every blade of grass; I could have learned the birdsongs while he did that if I hadn’t been so lazy.
Bluebells were Dad’s favourite wild flower and each anniversary of his death I take a bunch of them to his grave. I remember him joking about it on his sick bed, saying he wanted to die at the right time so they could be placed on his coffin. So you can understand why I just have to do it.
Dad always maintained he disliked weeds yet when I reminded him that bluebells were weeds and that he’d never planted one in his life he argued, saying bluebells were not weeds. Weeds, he retorted, are simply flowers that nobody wants. Naturally I had a go back but it was only in fun. That’s the sort of relationship we had.
‘Don’t argue with your father, Susan,’ Mom would say, as if I was a five year old. She could never take our baiting as a joke thing. If I was to take situations seriously at that awful time I would have sobbed all over Dad’s clean sheets.
Emphysema is an ugly disease. Heartbreaking, too. Dad tried to keep a smile in place but we could see how hard it was. He’d suffered for a long time and towards the end he hadn’t the strength to get out of bed. Dennis and I went to see him as often as we could although it was quite difficult for my better half to see a once hearty man so frail.
There’s a lot to think about as I walk along the rough path, through the forest of tall trees to the little glade where the bluebells would be widespread. I step over the tiny bubbling stream that meanders through the woods. A few more steps and I’ll reach the lake. I’ve been coming here for ten years now, ten years since Dad died. That was when my sun ceased to shine.
Why him? That’s a question I often ask. And why me? What did I do to warrant losing my very best friend? Oh what memories that statement evokes! Happy days, happy years! We only ever fell out once and that was so awful we vowed we’d never argue over differences again. If it wasn’t for him, though, I’d have left home years before I actually did.
Marriage took me away. Marriage to a man so like my Dad in many ways. Dear Dennis, thoughtful, kind and generous. His happy smile can penetrate my foulest mood. From the start of our relationship he quite skilfully managed to dispel my jaded outlook.
Dennis is the one who discovered the bluebells in the wood. He has an eye for flora and fauna, has Dennis. Just like my Dad. Mom didn’t understand Dennis, but then I don’t think she understood any man. She thought he was toffee-nosed and probably too good for me. How’s that for faith in her daughter’s choice? She had a grumble every time we popped in to see them. My Dad often told her to lighten up, after which she’d go into a lengthy sulk that entailed not speaking to any of us for months.
It wasn’t until Dad died that I discovered Mom was ill. She’d been suffering silently, cancer ridden and determined to hide it for as long as she could. No wonder she was miserable. She vehemently refused chemo and it took Dad’s demise to make me realise her motive.
I don’t put bluebells on Mom’s grave. She gets the red roses that Dad planted in my garden. I remember when the first buds started to form, not too long after the bluebells finished. Dad was doing a spot of weeding. ‘Got to take care of the roses,’ he said, ‘one day they’ll be needed for more than just a pretty scene.’ It was then he told me that Mom’s favourite flower was the rose. I never knew that. It’s amazing what we don’t know about our parents. Anyway, it transpired that when he proposed to Mom he gave her a single red rose, wrapped by the florist and adorned with a huge red ribbon. It was St Valentine’s Day. When she died it was my task to sort out her belongings. That’s when I found the rose, pressed and placed in an old diary, completely devoid of entries except for the words ‘to the brightest star who ignited my world’ in Dad’s distinctive handwriting.
How fabulous is that? I’d never have put either of them down as being romantic. Yes, it’s sad how little we know of our parents.
The sight before me is wondrous. The blanket of flowers between the pine trees just has to be God’s gift to me on this day. Bluebells en masse and a fragrance that never fails to astound me. Whilst listening to the robin’s song I place the basket on a tuft of grass and kneel to collect flowers for my Dad.
The peacefulness of this place encourages memories. I can go for months without reflecting back but here in the wood, surrounded by nature’s offerings, my mind switches back all those years. It’s like washing out the mind, dredging the clutter that modern living brings, rinsing away historic segments like ‘if’ and ‘why’. It’s here that peace settles around me, sweet recall replacing the angst that death creates.
The basket is full of bluebells and some pine cones from last year’s droppings. I have a flask of water ready for when I place the flowers in the urn and there’s a prayer for my Dad playing in my mind. Ten years! In a couple of months I’ll be cutting roses for my Mom. I hope she isn’t plaguing Dad too much in their own private heaven.