Saturday Diary: Crocus season

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I lived an idyllic life as a child, growing up on an acre in a three-bedroom ranch next to a 345-acre lake. There were no sidewalks, no stores to walk to, just our neighbors and three TV stations to keep us occupied. The house backed up against a forest that seemed to go forever. On the weekends, we would play all day until the lake reflected the soft pink hues of sunset. That's when we knew it was time to go home.


Doug Oster is a staff writer and garden columnist for the Post-Gazette (doster@
post-gazette.com
, 724-772-9177).

In the spring, I would run the quarter mile from the school bus stop to my house, get the mail and sprint up the gravel driveway to the front door. Just to the right was a small patch of dirt no bigger than a couple feet square. It was between the house and an old plywood cover for the well that supplied us with our water.

In April, little green pointy leaves would poke through the cool soil there, followed by blooms of 10 luminescent orange crocuses. The flowers lived in the shadow of overgrown evergreen shrubs, and their colorful blooms would last only for a couple of weeks. Then they were gone and forgotten until the following year.

I was captivated by those brilliantly colored flowers but never knew why. Maybe because they signaled the start of spring and the nearing end of school. Whatever the reason, each April I was stopped in my tracks by the diminutive flowers.

My mother didn't garden much, planting just those crocuses and some tomato vines I begged her to put in where an old above-ground pool used to be. She placated me as I made my first attempts at growing things.

It was the beginning of a lifetime of gardening.

Forty years later I stood over those green sprouts as my brother and wife methodically finished cleaning out our house.

My father died a couple of years ago and my mom did pretty well for a while, but then her health deteriorated and she had to move to a nursing home. Thankfully, she's happy to be there, realizing she can no longer take care of herself.

I had been in the house working, too, but found it difficult to see the place without Dad's easy chair in the living room or the antique painting that hung over the marble-topped dresser for most of my life. The rooms were empty and the 10-year-old carpet still looked new where the furniture used to be.

I gently brushed brown maple leaves from the crocuses and on close inspection I saw the tight buds of the flowers preparing for their journey upward. It would be a couple of days I guessed until they bloomed and, as I thought about seeing their blossoms one more time, I fought back the tears.

I used all the tricks I had learned as a child to quell my emotions. Swallowing hard, I walked away and was on the verge of losing it while walking across the cracked concrete patio. The memories of a lifetime consumed me. But I kept it together as I stared down at those crocuses, remembering the good times.

I wondered if I would ever see them bloom again. I'd be coming back, probably for the final time, with a rented truck to take away the last of the big furniture that my brothers didn't want. But by then, I figured, the flowers would have been up and gone, the greens still there, perhaps, but slowly fading away, to return time and time again as winter fades and spring arrives.

I thought about moving them, digging the whole clump up, carefully placing them in a pot and taking them on the two-hour drive back to my home in Pittsburgh. But I decided to leave them there as a tribute to my childhood. Maybe I'll be able to catch a glimpse of them if I ever drive by. I hope another kid will discover them some spring and wonder who planted them and why they are only in their glory for two short weeks.

I've got lots of plants at my place now that remind me of my mother. Each year I cultivate a variety called yellow mammoth crocus, thinking that's the one she planted all those years ago.

Every time they bloom I think of her and the wonderful times we had together. And of how nothing lasts forever.



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