Rhoda's rose

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Recollections of a harbor in Nova Scotia, a rose and how it came to grow in my garden

Submitted: November 09, 2016

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Submitted: November 09, 2016



Rhoda's rose.

The story goes back a long while now because Ainsley, almost 23, was not even in grade school. My mother in law was visiting us from South Africa and on one hot midsummer’s day, we found ourselves in a rented Winnebago in Nova Scotia, swaying slowly down an uneven road to a small fishing village just south of Halifax. No, not the iconic Peggy’s cove with it lighthouse and boulders where waves pluck fools into the ocean every year, but a small quiet harbor nearby with no name that I can remember.

Now, I have always been a plant man. Dad was a plant man too and our garden was a thing of beauty where we grew up in South Africa. So it was those genes that applied the brakes to the Winnebago that day and brought it to a gravely stop outside Rhoda’s cottage. Cars squeezed around the Winne and I suspect, evoked wrath in the heat stressed, beer deprived drivers. The “finger’ had not even been invented then, but certainly, the thought had. But I was transfixed; these were perhaps, the most beautiful roses I had ever seen! Clouds of red and pink tumbled over a stone wall, over an arbor shading the gate then scrambled up to the hot roof. Finally they hung down, casting cool shadows on a front door.

I knocked and after a while, Rhoda appeared. You will have to be content not to know her second name because I cannot recall it myself, although I wrote to her several times. But, as I said, that was long ago. Yet, I remember our first and only meeting well. She stood in the open door in her apron, a dish cloth twisting around in her old hands, not quite sure what to make of the young man, gushing and gesticulating at the floral splendor around them. Then she spoke very quietly and slowly looked up thoughtfully into the shade and perhaps, beyond.

“Yes, they are quite beautiful my dear, aren’t they? My husband brought them up from the harbor one day, many years ago. He was a fisherman.”

She paused for a while, pensive, perhaps thinking back to a day when a much younger man had opened the gate, smiled at her and put a few pots at her feet.  He never told me where they came from or what their names were but said they might look good somewhere in the front garden. Yes, they are lovely.”

I agreed.

“Would it be possible, perhaps…I started. 

She looked at me, puzzled.

… to perhaps , send me some cuttings one day? I would pay for them and the postage and whatever costs were involved.

For a few moments, there was silence. Had I made an unreasonable request? She looked into my face, thinking about something, her head cocked slightly to one side, perhaps about my request or perhaps about a young fisherman, bringing roses to his young wife, up from the harbor. Then a smile grew under her kind eyes and she said: Of course my dear, of course. Here is my name and address.

Our vacation ended and we returned to the island. Mom went home to South Africa and life carried on. In the fall of that year I wrote to Rhoda, reminding her of our conversation. I included some suggestions as to how the cuttings should be taken and packed and gave her my telephone number, just in case.

Then, as fall was turning to winter, the telephone rang one afternoon and the same soft voice was on the other end. Sorry I did not get back to you my dear, my husband died soon after we had met and it has been rather an awful time. Please tell me how I should send your cuttings”.

When the rose cuttings finally arrived at our post office, we were already on the cusp of winter so there was no thought of being able to plant them in partly frozen soil. Instead, I took the precious little sticks and rolled them tightly in damp newspaper. Three were labelled “Red” and the other three “Pink”. Then I built a little fortress for them from straw bales in the wood shed and nested them deep down inside with straw around them and a couple of bales on top; a stronghold against Mother Nature.

Christmas came and went, New Year too and snow fell heavily throughout late winter. We returned to work and I forgot about the cuttings, sleeping in the woodshed.

Then spring sprung and the days lengthened, snow melted and crocuses bloomed, then withered. And one day, when the first pale yellow buds of daffodils were struggling to open, I walked into the wood house and there was the cutting stronghold I had built many months earlier. Amazingly, the straw bales were still frozen solid, so a splitting ax was pressed into service in an unsophisticated lock picking operation. And there lay the six little cuttings. But Mother Nature had been most unkind.

It was clear that one of the pink cuttings and two of the red had died, their black and wizened bodies like trench fatalities from the battle of the Somme. The others looked nice and green; green recruits. I hurriedly shaved off one end of each of these, applied rooting hormone and planted them in some growing medium. Then I held thumbs.

The red cutting died. However, after a week or so, small leaf buds appeared on the little pink recruits and soon those buds became leaves and soon the cuttings grew into stems and began to look like little roses. Then they were planted in island soil. The following year they flowered. I wrote to Rhoda and told her of our success and her legacy. Sadly this was before the age of the internet and I never thought to mail her prints of the roses, so she never saw them growing on Prince Edward Island.

Rhoda was probably in her late eighties when we met, so without a doubt, she died many years ago. But if you believe in such things, she may be with her husband again, growing roses over a wall, a garden gate and the roof of a fisherman’s cottage somewhere by a sea.

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