Savage (sav´ij) noun, a member of a people regarded as primitive and uncivilized.
Pompous (pam´pǝs) adj., pretentious; affectedly and irritatingly grand, solemn, or self-important.
“Fannie, did you read The Vidette this week?” Clarissa asked over the telephone.
“Not yet. Why?” I asked playing with the phone cord.
“Yuppie Gardens is having a rose care class next weekend, and while I’m not a big fan of roses or even gardening for that matter, I thought you, Bunny and I could take the class after our coffee klatch,” Clarissa said.
“Wow, Clarissa, are you really sure you want to put yourself through that?” I asked scratching my head. “Bunny and I are probably gonna go berserk over the roses, how long’s the class?”
“It’s only a two hour class, I’ll think of it as a bonding experience,” she said laughing.
“All right,” I said, “are you calling Bunny or am I?”
“I’ll take care of it,” she said.
“I’ll bring you an extra treat, you’ll need it,” I said shaking my head.
Saturday morning the sun filled a rare cloudless February sky over Gig Harbor, Washington. The mercury rested at a crisp 36° F. White wisps of dew suspended between the cedars filter the sunlight on the deer ferns. Water droplets dripped from the moss on the maple trees.
I walked across the street to George and Bunny Gutierrez’ home. A white ranch house with blue trim. A monument to the Dallas Cowboys, George emblazoned the blue star on the garage door a few days before. Bunny opened the front door as I approached.
“So what do you think?” she asked with her refined Texas accent, her long blond hair swept back into a pony tail behind her head crowning her statuesque figure.
“Bunny, I can’t imagine anyone will ever doubt you bleed blue and white,” I said smiling, “I think it’s perfect.”
Bunny’s smile spread like a flower opening to the sun. “Thank you Fannie,” she said, “now what did you bring?”
“Well in addition to my homemade shortbread cookies, I packed a little something extra for Clarissa while we take the class,” I said fishing around in my canvas tote. “Here it is,” I said pulling out a bar of Ghirardelli’s Midnight Reverie, “there should be enough here to last the two hours of the class. She can walk it off while we shop.”
“Did you bring a note pad and pen? If not, I’ve already packed spares,” Bunny said walking into the kitchen.
“I’m good, but bring the spares just in case,” I said running my hands through my short brown hair. “We can compare notes after class.”
Clarissa arrived a few minutes later. She carried a bag of Seattle’s Best Coffee’s, Level Two.
“I thought we might try something a little lighter today,” she said her short red curls framing her round face. Her bright blue eyes shining. “It smells a little bit like cocoa,” she said, “it should prop me up for our class.”
After our coffee klatch we piled into The Love Wagon, a red Ford F150. Richard and I removed the queen futon and disco ball for the occasion.
I parked The Love Wagon on the Wollochet Drive side of the parking lot about fifteen minutes before the class. Bunny lead us into the entrance with the home and yard decor.
Twenty-four thousand square feet of gardening nirvana spread out before us like an oasis. Elegantly displayed yard furniture and decor. Lush indoor plants, small fountains, arbors, trellises and the walls graced with metal sculptures and paintings. Lavender and gardenia scented the warm air. The sun streamed through skylights highlighting displays throughout the showroom.
We meandered through a sliding door into the main green house. The cold air a shock. Large rocks displayed plant and floral arrangements. A teak potting bench with wheels and portable sink sat between two water fountains. Primroses, cyclamen, pansies and heather staged on the bench.
When we crossed to the far side through another sliding door we reached the class area. Rows of tables covered in plants filled an area to our right. To our left shelves filled with high end fertilizers, natural insecticides, bagged potting soil and mulches. Directly ahead of us, rows of folding chairs sat on the cement floor under the skylight facing a wipe board with a long brown folding table set in front.
Bunny lead us up to the front row. Clarissa tapped her on the arm and whispered into her ear. We moved to the second row. The room filled with women and a single man with short gray hair accompanying his wife.
The instructor walked to the front of the room and introduced herself. She passed a stack of handouts to the class.
Clarissa legs bounced. I fished the chocolate bar out of my tote. Her eyes lit up like Charlie entering the Chocolate Factory. She ran her finger under the edge of the wrapper. A quiet tearing sound accompanying the operation. The smell of rich dark chocolate wafted into the air.
As our instructor explained the difference between floribundas, grandifloras, and teas, a soft snap followed by another whiff of chocolate. Clarissa took a deep breath and smiled.
Bunny and I wrote notes like monks transcribing a sacred text, trying to catch all of the new terms and planting techniques. Such as if you are going to plant a rose in a pot, what sized pot to use.
Our instructor said, “Let’s talk about shovel pruning. When a rose is diseased or bug infested, you take a shovel to it, dig it out of the ground, throw it away and replace it with a hardier, more disease resistant plant.”
The most of the class said, “Ooooh.”
Clarissa giggled and ate another chocolate square.
The sound of pens scratching on paper filled the room. The sounds of fingers tapping on keyboards strangely absent.
As predicted, Clarissa stretched the bar out over the full two hours and the question and answer period. Our instructor handed out sheets listing the roses they carried in stock this season, divided by type.
I scanned the two page list. On the back of the last page under the category of climbing rose was listed Cecile Brunner. My heart stopped. I grabbed Clarissa by the arm.
“Oh my god,” I gasped freaking out, “they have a Cecile Brunner. Do you know what this means?”
“It means you’re gonna chant Cecile Brunner all the way home?” Clarissa asked laughing.
Bunny looked up from her list. “Fannie are you all right, you look like you might hyperventilate.” She fanned me with her notepad.
“Bunny, I’m okay, but I have to get a Cecile Brunner,” I said shaking slightly.
Our instructor walked over. “Did I hear you mention the Cecile Brunner?” she asked smiling. “It is one of my favorite roses. It’s nicknamed the Sweetheart Rose and considered an heirloom rose. It was developed by Jean Pernet of France in 1881, he’s a big name in the rose world. It has a little pink bud that gives a light rose fragrance but won’t overwhelm your garden.”
Clarissa’s eyes rolled back into her head.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” I said standing up, “where are they?”
“Follow me,” she said leading us into ten acres of plant paradise. Half an acre devoted to the roses.
Signs at the end of each row signified the varieties we were passing. Hybrid Teas, Grandifloras, trees, shrubs, rugosa and finally climbing roses.
The rose instructor said, “Keep in mind, this rose love sunshine and can climb upwards of forty feet.”
Eight green pots each labeled Cecile Brunner sat on a pallet. I ran my fingers over the thornless cane of the plant closest to me.
Bunny couldn’t take it anymore. “All right Fannie honey, spill. I’ve never seen you behave this way before. There has to be a story.”
Clarissa snorted. She said, “There always is. I think this one involves Fannie’s uncle and a lawn mower if I remember correctly.”
The rose instructor stared at us. “A lawn mower?” she asked her hand rushed to cover her gaping mouth.
“I guess I should put this in context,” I said smiling, “my dad was in the army before he met my mother. She didn’t want to move a lot when we were young, so they decided to get a house halfway between the base and her parents.”
A thin strip of grass coiffed the manicured yard which surrounded a small white house with blue trim. Blue decorative shutters hung on either side of the front windows. A neat aggregate walkway lead from the driveway to the front door.
A sculpted round circle cut in the center of the lawn exposed rich brown dirt. In the exact center of the circle two small green canes peaked three inches above the lawn. Each cane sprouted three leaves.
My father stood up to admire his work. His dark brown hair beginning to thin on top. He wore green fatigues with the name Chambliss embroidered on the chest.
“Velverlorn,” he said addressing my mother who was wearing her favorite Suzanne Pleshette wig, a sky blue sleeveless top with matching pedal pushers and white sandals with three inch heels, “this is a cutting from the original rose my family brought over with us from France. Every member of the Chambliss family has been given a cutting when they purchased a home. This is ours.” Putting his hand on my head he said, “when this grows up, we’ll give each of you girls a cutting of your own to take with you.”
Two weeks later my father’s unit was deployed for duty in Germany for a year. Lenora Jane and I divided the chore of mowing the lawn as Eleanor was still to small to reach the handle of the lawn mower.
In late August, Lenora Jane tried to start the lawn mower. It would not start. My mother came out and tried it. It chugged a few times and died.
My mother called my aunt. “Verla, our lawn mower died, can Carl stop by and take a look at it on his way home from work.”
My mother listened for a few moments. “That’s great, we’ll see him then,” she said smiling.
Uncle Carl arrived at 5:30. The top down on his Cadillac convertible. The temperature soared to 97 degrees. His face and hands tanned to a dark brown. His wide black neck tie loosened at the collar of his white button down collar shirt. He wore pressed black trousers with creased seams running down the front. His black shoes reflected the Cadillac.
We circled the lawn mower. Standing in the shade beads of sweat formed on our foreheads.
“Well let’s take a look at this shall we,” Uncle Carl said smiling. He adjusted the choke, moved the gear into start mode and gave the cord a pull. The mower roared to life.
My mother smiled. “Carl you’re a genius.”
“Velverlorn, it was probably just flooded,” he said reaching over to turn it off.
My mother held out her hand stopping him. “Since you’re here, you wouldn’t mind mowing the lawn. I need to get the girls fed.” Without waiting for a reply, she turn around and herded us into the house.
We could hear the mover rev into high gear. Ten minutes later silence descended over the house. The garage door closed and the squeal of tires tore out of the driveway.
After dinner, we walked out to see the lawn job. The grass looked like a green at Augusta National. One inch tall green velvet lawn stretched in front of the house.
Eleanor rolled on the lawn. “Mommy look at me.” She stopped at the circle next to the family rose. The smile left her face. Her bottom lip fluttered. Her round checks turned bright red. Tears poured from her eyes. “He killed Daddy’s rose,” she screamed rolling into a ball.
We rushed to Eleanor’s side. In the center of the circle stood a two inch long green stub cut on the bias with the white of the inner cane exposed. The cane pulled partially out of the ground. Most of the tender new roots left behind in the soil.
Clarissa walked away laughing. The instructor and Bunny’s mouths hung open.
The instructor’s mouth worked up and down as the color returned to her face. “What a savage.”
“I can’t believe your uncle did that,” Bunny said shaking her head, her blond pony tail swinging behind her head in emphasis. “What a pompous thing to do.”