The Gift

 

Standing in my classroom making last-minute preparations, I could hear the buzz of excitement in the hallway.  It was Teacher Day – and all the children had been “secretly” asked to surprise their teacher with a blossom from their garden.  The school bell electrified their movements as they scurried into line outside their classrooms.  I thought of last year’s flowers and grabbed two vases from the cabinet.

Stepping into the hallway to greet my students, my face fell just a smidge when I saw only one lone flower in the grip of a hand.  I willed my smile back into place, but my mind was on fire.  Only one flower?  Really?  I spend long hours and weekends to give them the best school experience possible and this is the response?  I felt forgotten and unloved.  I wanted to cry.

My stomach tightened as I eyed that flower – a tall pearly white calla lily with a massive red bow around its stem.  To make matters worse, I was not a calla lily fan.  I had to laugh at myself.  What a weird start to the day!

Then a long-forgotten scene floated into my head, something I hadn’t remembered in twenty years.  In it, my mother was standing next to a flowerbed that ran alongside her home.  I was kneeling in the dirt, not far from her, weeding in the hot sun, grateful for the shade of her body as she stood gesticulating on the patio in her crazy purple pantsuit.  “Aren’t my calla lilies beautiful?”  Mom’s voice was nothing short of euphoric.

I groaned and looked up at her.  “Ewww, Mom.  Really? They look like plastic.  Aren’t they some kind of a funeral flower?”

“Oh don’t be silly, honey!  They represent rebirth and a lust for life.  They’re lovely!  Plus, they’re practically indestructible.” She nodded to herself and closed her eyes.  She looked like she was praying.  I returned to my weeding, shaking my head.

A child’s voice jolted me back to my classroom.  “Ms. Erickson?  Do you like it?”  I blinked and saw little Jeffrey, with his insanely adorable dimples.  He was raising up his gift of a calla lily and it was now floating in front of my face.   “This is for you!”

Wait a minute.  Suddenly my head was spinning, recalling a very important detail.

Jeffrey’s family lived in Mom’s old home, the one we had removed her from when she went into hospice.  Although that had been years ago, I remember my intake of breath as I read his address at the beginning of the school year.

I knelt and hugged Jeffrey.  “Are you kidding?  I LOVE it.  Did it come from your garden?”

He nodded and handed it to me.  “There were a bunch of them, but this was definitely the best.”

“I bet!” I couldn’t contain my curiosity.  “Did you pick it from right outside your living room window?  You know, next to your patio?”

Jeffrey’s eyes went wide.  I wanted to tell him all about my mother’s flowers and how she loved them.  I wanted to tell him how I missed her, and how I had once tried to convince her to pull her favorite flowers out of the ground.  But I didn’t.  It felt like a secret I had to keep.

The next morning when I entered my classroom I was greeted by the calla lily, now the most beautiful flower I had ever received.  I whispered, “Good morning, Mom.”

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