Sometimes events converge the way I would plan them. This year my iris bloomed on Mother’s Day. I cut a big bunch and took them up to put on my mother’s grave.
My mother was a passive woman. She fought very few open battles against my father, as he from the patriarchal seat of absolute authority issued the orders with which he ruled our family life. However, there was one battle Mother waged and won. The battle was over two bushel baskets of iris bulbs.
In the summer of 1951 my father changed jobs. Our family was transplanted from Alabama to Idaho. My parents purchased a tract house, one of a row that had been plopped down on the bare spots created when bulldozers scraped off the layer of sparse vegetation which grew in that high, dry latitude. Going from lush Alabama to the near desert of Pocatello was horticultural shock of a kind my mother did not intend to tolerate for long. Iris were her favorite flowers. She determined to take two bushels of bulbs along with us to plant despite my father’s hard habit of throwing out anything for which he could not see an immediate and pressing need. He declared that taking those bulbs was ridiculous. It was stupid, a waste of space in the moving van. She didn’t even know if they would grow in Idaho. He scowled his most frightening scowl. The thunderheads of anger at having his will thwarted loomed over our family. We all took cover except for Mother, who for once, held her ground. We were amazed when she won. The bulbs went to Idaho where they flourished in a thick braid the length of the back of our house. We children delighted in them, too. They were a sign that some battles against our father’s intransigence could be won.
It seemed that there were iris each place we moved after that. It was taken for granted there would be. If there were none growing when we came, then some were planted. They were tacit reminders of her victory, like flags taken in battle.
I have continued her custom of planting iris wherever I live. I have done it because I like them and because they remind me of her. Here in Kansas, I learned, iris are often called flags. Here in Kansas, I have fought my own battles.
I felt a smug immunity when I turned forty. There would be no mid-life crisis for me, then I stumbled over my hubris and began a free fall into despair. During the four years it took me to climb out of that dark pit, I sought help. Twice I came away no better. I hoped the third time would be different. I had interviewed a therapist over the phone. I told her my situation. She said she thought she could help. I had my doubts, but I got in my car and drove the 100 miles to her office to give her a try. She met me at the front desk after I had filled out the forms. We chatted as we walked down the long, carpeted halls to her office. I follow her in and looked around. “You like iris,” I said.
“Yes,” she laughed. For, you see, iris where everywhere. Her office was a veritable garden of things with iris on them. There were pictures and pillows, plaques and a throw. Small sculptures and ornaments covered the tables. There were iris on things I’d never thought of putting flowers on.
Surrounded by these battle flags, I knew this time would be different.