Dad and the Roses 

Dad and the Roses

By Marianne Spitzer

© June 2005

When I was growing up, we lived in a small white house with a huge yard. My parents purchased the house and the lot next to it. We moved from the city when I was five into what is now referred to as a suburb. Back then, it was a lovely rural area.

Mom and dad planted a garden and trees in the extra lot. We had an apple, plum, and pear trees. We had a grape arbor and more lilac bushes then I had ever seen. Mom planted every imaginable vegetable, and we even tried to grow watermelon. However, the growing season was not quite long enough. At the back of the extra lot, sat an old chicken coop that my dad cleaned, painted, and turned into a playhouse for me. In summer, it was covered with big, beautiful pink June roses that climbed the back and sides of the building. In the front, wild tiger lilies grew, and their orange color always fascinated me. They are still a favorite to this day.

I spent many happy hours playing in my little house, and I was the envy of the other girls in the neighborhood. There was a large cherry tree near the little house, but the cherries were never very sweet. There was and still is a large Linden tree that sat behind mom's big house and my little one. When we moved in, my dad told me all of this was mine, including the giant weeping Willow tree that stood in front of the big house, and I took that literally. Two large evergreen trees also adorned the yard of the big house. After living in a small rented house with an equally small yard, I was blissful.

As the years passed, I grew tired of the playhouse, and mom and dad grew tired of the garden that always seemed to grow into a jungle each summer so little by little, it was trimmed back. When I was about twelve, the little house was torn down, and a large two and a half car garage took its place. A smaller garden was planted between the garage and the lot line, and several of the fruit trees were removed. A church had been built two lots down from my parent's home, and the church decided to build a huge five-bedroom house for the pastor on the two lots that remained between our house and the church. That took care of the rest of the fruit trees because some had been planted too close or over the lot line.

Time marches on, and I didn't think much about the yard except when it was time to rake all those leaves or the summer hours I spent under the leaves of "my" Willow tree. Dad let the leaves grow a bit longer than usual since I loved to sit under them as if it was my fortress from the world. Even as a teenager, I would sit under the Willow and watch the sunlight glimmer through the leaves. I read, wrote stories, or just daydreamed for hours in my little world in the front yard.

When I was 18, I married and moved to Washington state and then California. Seven years after I left, I returned home. I was excited to see my family, old friends, and all the places I missed so much. My children and I drove from California to Wisconsin, and it was an uneventful trip until I pulled into my parent's driveway. My Willow tree was gone! Not even a stump remained--just a patch of barren ground.

It was a cold March day, and we had had snow and ice on and off since I neared the Wisconsin state line. All the snow and ice made that barren spot look emptier. What had they done with my tree? Even my children were asking, "Where is the big tree, Mommy? You told us all about it." I had no idea. I walked in the back door, and my mom was so happy to see us arrive safely, and all I could do is ask, "What did you do to my tree?" My mom looked at me strangely, and then it dawned on her that I was talking about the Willow. She explained it had been invaded by army ants, and they had taken over and damaged it so severely that by the time dad found them, the tree was dying. The only thing they could do was remove the tree and destroy the ants before they invaded the house.

Okay, that seemed like a plausible answer, but why hadn't anyone told me. Mom didn't think it was such a big deal since they planned on planting a lovely red maple in the yard the following year. Who cared about a red maple? I wanted to know why no one cared about my Willow.

My dad arrived home from work, and my children were so happy to see their grandpa and vice versa that the Willow was forgotten for a while. Later, in that special way he had, he explained it all to me. He said that the roots had grown so deep and had gone so far that they had cracked the foundation of the minister's house next door. Between that and the ants, it was time for it to go. I understood, but I was going to miss my Willow. Dad said it would take a long time for all the roots to rot, so instead of planting grass, he was going to plant roses. He said the ground would continue to sink in that spot for years, and roses were much better than having a dip in the yard filled with grass. He could always add more soil to a rose bed.

The following spring, dad worked the soil and added more, and then he planted his roses. That first year I think he just planted six rose bushes in different colors. They bloomed beautifully, and each year he cared for them and once in a while would add another bush that he saw and liked. This went on for 15 years, and each year the roses were bigger and more beautiful than the year before. We all loved the roses, and the scents were wonderful.

Mom's red maple was growing quite large, and she planted flowers all around the house and the border of the garden. She never planted roses because that was always what dad loved to do. Dad became ill, and he passed away in late August, so no one was surprised when the roses began to fade, and the petals fell; the growing season was ending.

The next year mom tended to dad's rose bushes just as he had, but either they wouldn't grow, wouldn't bloom, or died off completely. She was still grieving, and she just let the rose garden go until the following year. She took the dead plants out, tilled the soil, added rose plant food, and bought new rose plants. Nothing grew beyond a foot tall, and there were no blooms. Mom decided to purchase new rose bushes and followed the instructions the nursery gave her. They wouldn't grow. She was bound and determined to keep dad's rose bed going, so the next year she bought two of the best rose bushes she could find. These had a money-back guarantee if they failed to grow. They didn't, and she took them back to the nursery. The nursery people were shocked because none of the others had come back. They replaced them with two new bushes.

Mom returned home with the new bushes and carefully planted one in dad's rose bed and then had an idea. She planted the other one near the house where she planted other flowers. The rose bush in dad's rose bed didn't grow, but the one mom planted along the side of the house grew and flourished, giving the most beautiful red roses.

It was then mom realized that she couldn't grow roses in dad's rose bed because he was taking all the roses to heaven. That seemed to be the only explanation. The dip in the yard wasn't getting any deeper. Mom decided to plant grass, and it grew very well. We have tried to figure this out and have come up with some odd theories, but none that would hold water. I am sure heaven is filled with roses, but I think my dad wanted to grow his own because it wouldn't be heaven to him without them. My favorite picture of dad is one where he is bending over and holding one of the roses from the rose bed. He has the biggest smile on his face. I think he has the roses with him. His smile is wonderful, and I miss him.

I hope you enjoy your roses, Daddy; I love and miss you.