Just like the zinnias, children will come back
Lemon yellows. Lipstick reds. Neon pinks. Mango oranges. Little lovely heads upturned to the sun, shining in the blue Bamberg County sky. This past summer, my zinnia patch covered one-quarter acre at our family's little farm. As my Grandma Ruth used to say, the flower garden was "just graaaand."
But now it is cooler and the colorful little heads have turned to gray like my hair. It makes me wistful, thinking of the memories that swirl in and out the dead stalks of flowers on the breeze.
The old farmhouse in front of the zinnia patch is way too empty now for my husband and me when we come up on weekends. All four of our children live away from home. Only our yellow Labrador plays on the lawn beneath the old oak. There are no footballs or Frisbees flying through the air. No Red Hot Chili Peppers blasting through the front screen porch.
There is a sweet sadness about the farm now, hovering about the old zinnia patch. At times, I am not sure if I want to smile or cry when I walk down the rows. I can still see my twin boys with their identical heads bowed over the dirt. It was a Saturday in spring when they planted more than 12 packets of seeds.
And I remember the summer night after dark that my older son and I drove up to water the new blooms. We worked silently in the light of a full moon to make sure the new flowers had enough to drink.
And I can recall my lovely daughter's face one midsummer evening when she beheld the four blue plastic mop buckets full of zinnia blooms I carted home from the farm as a surprise.
The children do not live at home anymore. It is hard for me to say that and even more difficult for me to type it. With one son at college, the twins at boarding school and our daughter teaching in Atlanta, they are gone. They are gone just like the zinnias.
Sure they text, email, telephone and Skype. But it isn't the same. I want them to be around again. At times, I feel useless in my own home even though I arrive from my teaching job each afternoon extremely exhausted.
I wonder, how did I do it all when the children lived with us? How did I fix supper each evening? No wonder we often ate something that starts with an S and ends with an S -- Stouffer's.
And how did I keep up with dirty clothes? Actually I didn't. The laundry room always looked like the tallest peak in South Carolina -- a Sassafras Mountain of dirty jeans and T-shirts.
And what about the homework? Often I made a failing grade on keeping tabs on that. The boys actually have better grades now that they are studying at school away from home.
But I still miss the dinner table conversation, the hugs, the funny stories and even the arguments over who is wearing whose boxers.
I guess I need to remember that just like the zinnias, the children will be back. I need to remember that if I plow the field, fertilize, seed and water, the zinnias will return. The children will come home this summer to see me again. They will arrive with their big appetites and bulging laundry bags. I will have glimpses of times that we once had when all of my lovely offspring lived at home.
That is all I can hope for. Like the zinnia blooms, that is enough for me. That is the zen of zinnias. And that is grace.
Ruth Aiken Owens grew up in Mount Pleasant. In addition to raising four children and thousands of zinnias, she teaches third grade at Beech Hill Elementary School in Summerville.