Candy Bars and Carnations

When I was six or seven, our teacher showed us how to grow carnations in a small pot for our mothers. We planted the seeds, watered and nurtured them and checked them every day for a month. The Friday before Mother’s Day, we placed a ribbon on our individual pots and took them home. On my way home, one of the older kids bumped into me, making me drop the pot and breaking my flower nearly in half. Crying, I ran home with the broken flower and pot and presented it to my mother, begging her to fix it. Trying to appease me, she told me to go to the medicine cabinet and get the iodine and bandages.

When I returned, she had found a popsicle stick and was inserting it into the soil. She showed me how to hold the flower against it while she applied the iodine to the half broken stem. She then placed a bandage around it and secured the flower to the stick with a strip of gauze. When she was finished, she displayed the poor little flower in the middle of the table.

“Mommy loves her flower very much. It’s the best Mother’s Day present I’ve ever received.” she told me, seeing I wasn’t quite satisfied with the results. Happy once again, I went off to play, not knowing that my mother really had no hope that the flower would survive.

Five days later we both noticed that the once white carnation had red streaks in it’s petals. The stem had absorbed the iodine and it went into the flower. Miraculously, the flower was still fresh looking and the stem remained strong. It was even starting to sprout tiny leaves near the base. After awhile, my mother trimmed the flower off and re-planted the stem outside. For weeks she tended to the plant, still not expecting it to live. She cut away the broken part and let nature take its course. In the fall, she covered the flower bed with mulch and tilled the soil the next spring. She planted tea roses all along the bed, sadly realizing the plant had finally died. Several weeks went by before she noticed an odd looking weed amongst the tea roses which were now in full bloom. It didn’t seem to be harming the other plants and she was curious to see what it was, so she let it be. Three weeks before Mother’s Day, she went out to cut some more roses for the table. Nestled in between two of the plants was a white carnation with the faintest of pink streaks in the petals. For years she kept that plant alive, taking cuttings from it whenever we moved. Re-planting the cutting was one of the very first things she ever did when we arrived at a new home.

Twenty years later, we were living in Arizona. It was Mother’s Day and things were bad that year. I was seven months pregnant with my first baby and going through a nasty divorce. My parents were struggling with new jobs, higher house payments and my brother and I both back at home. Even though we were all working, money was very tight. It just seemed as if one disaster after another was hitting us and so none of us, especially my mother and I, were feeling very cheerful. I got off work in the early afternoon and felt horrible that I had nothing at all to give my mother. I had less than a dollar in change and we had very little food in the house, so making a special dinner was out of the question. I went to the store hoping to find something, anything I could give her. Unfortunately, even the smallest of gifts were beyond what I could afford. Finally, I settled on buying her one of her favorite candy bars. Sheepishly, I went home and handed her the candy, promising to make it up to her with my next paycheck. She thanked me and apologized for not having anything for me either. I could see she felt bad for not being able to make my first Mother’s Day special in some way and that made me feel even worse. After she left the room, I sat down and stared off into space, not wanting to have her come in and see me crying. For several minutes, I heard her walking through the house and then going outside. She came back in a few minutes later.

“Happy Mother’s Day.” she said, handing me two white carnations, tied together with a red ribbon. They were from the 20-year-old plant she had cherished all these years. Trying not to cry, I looked up at her. She was holding out half of the candy bar I had bought. Laughing through our tears, I handed her one of the carnations.

“Wow. We both got candy and flowers for Mother’s Day.” I joked.

Later that day, my brother came home with groceries. He and our step-dad made us dinner. Later that week, things started looking a little better and a few weeks after my son was born, our financial situation was looking brighter.

Since then, we have been able to do a little more for each other on Mother’s Day, but I still think the best gifts we each received were the candy bar and carnations.