Pine Knot News - A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

By Denise Hammond
Guest Columnist 

Today, I planted tulips


November 30, 2018

My love affair with flowers is never more angst-filled than when the frosts of fall put to death the vibrant colors of summer. Blooming ends, vegetation wilts, even the grass fades and withers. The entire landscape melts into a neutral, barren wasteland of brown and tan. Drab, desolate, decaying. Multiple autumns back, this was the state of my soul as well. Empty, grieving, dead. Another baby had been on the way. A baby due in May, but a baby we would never hold. A girl, we thought. Emma.

Cold, drizzle-filled days passed in a blur. I couldn't help but think the weather fitting - a metaphor of my own internal landscape. Brown. Lifeless. And sprinkled by tears.

I don't remember who exactly gave me the bag of tulip bulbs that fall. They were yellow with red markings, according to the package. Ten in number. I'd never had tulips before. Flowers in general were uncommon. With a sizable family, there was precious little time for such luxuries. Instead, I vicariously enjoyed my backyard neighbor's meticulously tended flower garden through my kitchen window. When I lamented my "flowerlessness" to Helen, well into her 80s by then, she gently reminded me, "You're busy raising your children right now. I've got time for tulips."

With the ever-shortening days of fall, it was dark by the time The Littles were tucked into bed and I was free to plant. Armed with a spade, a work light and my bag of tulips, I stepped out into the brisk night where the scent of leaves drifted on the breeze. But I felt as dark as that night. My baby had died and I felt robbed.

Angry. It wasn't fair. The world had somehow marched on; most days my chest was so heavy I couldn't even breathe. I fumbled simple tasks and cried at burned toast. In vain attempts at comfort, people said hurtful things. Stupid things even. "You can have more. Be thankful for the ones you have. Maybe it was for the best. Maybe it was deformed. It was God's will. Maybe you couldn't have handled another. Maybe you should just STOP having children." An earthy fragrance wafted up from the freshly turned ground with every angry, thrust of the spade. Tears fell and I wiped them away, leaving grimy streaks across my face. When the hole was deep enough, I placed the first bulb. For Emma. A memorial. To honor. To remember. She had existed. She had mattered. She STILL mattered.

Then, a funny thing - in the chilly darkness, a small glimmer of light flickered. A deepening realization that buried in the black soil, beyond sight, a bulb lived. Planted in faith that winter would thaw and spring would come again, that word picture curled itself around my heart in rhythmic, CPR-like compressions with every plunge of the blade. Dig and plant. Dig and plant. With each bulb, my stone heart quivered. This temporal earth, however brown and dead, was not the end. Death, too, would give way to resurrection, as sure as flowers would bloom again.

Come spring, 10 tulips gently greeted us, fluttering in a sun-drenched breeze. Each one a reminder of a precious girl that waited for us. Each one silent, yet speaking words of life, of beauty, of assurance just the same. It was the undeniable voice of Hope - whose color bloomed yellow that spring.

Many years have since passed. Other babies died after Emma. Other paths of grief and sadness and healing had to be walked. In fact, our Christmas mantel today holds extra stockings, hung in tribute each year to little lives that one day will be ours to hold.

Today, only a handful of Emma's original tulips still survive. Harsh winters and evil bunnies have been unusually cruel. So this fall, before the snow fell and temperatures plummeted, I took advantage of a season-end, half-price sale and bought a few more. Yellow ones, with red markings. Armed with a spade and a bag of tulips, I once again stepped out into the brisk, fall air. The Littles had grown, my raw grief lay hushed. But memories lingered. I thought of Emma with every new bulb I dropped in the ground. I pictured her face. I saw her skipping up to meet us at the Gates. And I confess, I wept again. Today, the tears were in anticipation of that sweet reunion. Today, I saw through a lens of hope, planted in the broken, upturned soil of my heart those many years ago. Today, I planted tulips.

Cloquet's Denise Hammond is married to her high school sweetheart and they have nine grown children. She now has time for flowers.


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