When “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and I first “took to housekeeping,” as it was said where I come from, our first home was a small brick ranch. You know it. You may have lived in one yourself. But, even if you have not, you have certainly been in one. Just in case, let me give you a quick tour. You enter through the front door into the living area. Take three more steps and you are in the dining/kitchen area. Back up one step and turn one-quarter turn to your left and you are facing down the hallway. Take three steps and you have the bathroom on your right and bedroom number one (what would become the nursery) on your left. Take two more steps and you have the “Master bedroom” (none too masterly) on your right, and bedroom number two (only slightly less small than bedroom number one) on your left. Voila! Our first home. It was small, but it was ours, and over the next few years we would make much more of it than we probably should have, certainly on the limited means we had in those earlier days.
One of our first improvements was the addition of a “three-season” room on the back where our small patio had been. It was my favorite place in the house and was where I spent a great deal of my time. We placed a beautiful, small wood-burning stove upon a hearth in one corner where on snowy, wintery days, one could sit and watch the snow pile up against the full-glass windows and be as snug as a wool blanket. It was indeed cozy, especially given that we were not, by any measure, rich, then or now, and it provided so much joy and comfort for us, a young married couple living just at the edge of our means. I miss that room still today…
The first spring, after the fall and winter we first put that three-season room on the back of our house, our attention turned to sprucing up the outside of the room where it sat jutting out into our back yard. Along one of the short sides, next to the gate to the back yard, there was a small, but very visible rectangular alcove where the wall of the three-season room ran parallel to the walkway that came through the gate and into the yard. “Herself” had always wanted a place to plant a garden, and whereas she was quite good with flowers, it was decided that this little alcove would make a perfect location to begin the reclamation of our back yard.
“Herself” had always most admired roses so, after much consideration and pooling of our spare pennies, an order was placed from a mail-order garden supplier of plants and such. We were about to embark on our very own rose garden, and the prospect, while seemingly simple now, was at that time monumental and exciting. There was great anticipation and much expectancy in our home while awaiting the arrival of our newest family members — our rose bush starters.
Well, you must consider that these were pre-Amazonian days and mail-order was still at best six to eight weeks in most cases, and quite a bit more in many. Yes, it is difficult for some to understand how we can get products from China in a couple days now, while in those days, it might take an entire season to receive a package from somewhere in an adjoining state.
So, spring turned to summer and summer grew long, till the sun in its journey north began to form much longer shadows, far earlier in the day, until one day, our once greatly anticipated package, now all but forgotten, finally arrived. And whereas we both worked, and weekends were quite full doing the things required to address the items that had stacked up over the course of the preceding week while also preparing ourselves for the requirements of the proceeding week, it was longer still till we finally broke ground and placed those small, crisp, starter bushes into the soil.
Then summer turned to fall and fall to winter. Over the course of that fall and winter, we watched day after day as the leaves piled high, and the snows repeatedly covered the small plot of ground where those would-be roses rested, waiting their chance to burst forth and rise up to the sun and explode with all the rich warm colors and fragrance that almighty God had given only to the rose. Day after winter day, we sat in the warmth of our three-season room, by the glow and conviviality of our small Vermont Castings stove, with potpourri simmering on its flat iron surface, and we waited for spring.
Well, Spring came and went without so much of a hint of life in our small, rose babies… Day after day, we would come see them and speak to them, telling them how much we expected of them and how wonderful they would be when they finally grew to make something tremendous and lovely of themselves and the entry to our back yard. We spoke to them like one might speak to an awkward child that just could not seem to find their way in the world. We had such hopes in them…
But they did not hear us and did not respond in kind. Spring turned to summer… summer to fall…fall to winter and the leaves and snows piled high again, covering over our little rose bush starters. At some point we even stopped opening the mini blinds along that short wall and just sat by our fire, first forgiving them, then forgetting them. In fact, we paid no mind to them the following spring and summer…
Honestly, I don’t know how many seasons went by, but we ceased placing our hopes and joys in that small four-foot by ten-foot rectangle of soil and moved on with other aspects of our lives. There were, after all, many other things that occupied us as we grew into our home and our lives as a man and a woman do as they turn from starry-eyed newly weds to a young married couple, both with careers to follow.
Pardon me, but allow me another moment to open new thread in this narrative. I promise, our paths will converge again, but I must tell you this second story to justify the entirety of all you have just read.
A few years into our domesticity, a long-time and dear friend came to visit with us. He had just left a position in New York and while on no particular timetable, was in fact traversing the country to relocate nearer his family in Arizona. My friend was as good, noble, and loyal as any friend could be, and he and I had indeed spent a great many days, months, and years at University together where we each, on multiple occasions rescued each other from the tremendous loss that both love and drink might cause a young man. We were tight…
I failed to mention up to this point that another of our many projects in our little ranch home was the addition of a living and playing space in our basement. In fact, we had transformed (or so we thought) a simple poured concrete basement into a meager version of a pub, complete with a bar and stools that housed an old refrigerator we had converted into what we liked to call the “beergerator.” It also boasted a relatively comfortable sitting area where we in fact spent many pleasant evenings, with countless splendid friends, making myriad delightful memories.
Off one end of the finished basement was a dark, private bedroom where guest might stay for a time when passing though and needed a place to rest their heads. Where they might spend some time in our company, and us in theirs. It was made comfortable enough with many of the pieces and parts left over from each of our separate lives from the days before those of marital bliss, including a dated waterbed that had come with “Herself.” It was in this area that my briefly-visiting friend was made comfortable.
In retrospect, we Perhaps made him a bit too comfortable, because he did in fact remain a bit longer than the weekend… or a long weekend… or the few days we had anticipated for what was but a momentary stopover on his cross-county sojourn. A weekend turned to a week… a week turned to weeks… which in turn turned to months. And what began as a convivial visit became something akin to the extricating of a racoon family from one’s attic where they had stealthily taken up residence and decided they were staying. In his first weekend alone, he drained the “beergerator” dry, and over the course of his stay did that several more times, until we just stop replenishing it.
So, over the next few months, the thin, blond, blue-eyed, handsome friend who had originally descended the steps to our basement metamorphized into something one might describe as the illegitimate child of a J.R.R. Tolkien Character and something out of “Night Shift,” by Steven King. My basement-dwelling, beer drinking, best friend had become ensconced in our basement and in our lives, needless to say, a rapidly growing issue between “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and myself.
Our hospitality had turned to the enablement of someone that did not wish to complete their journey and begin writing the next chapter of their book. And so, he sat… in his subterranean dwelling… where he had learned to surf the channels in such a way as to watch every rerun of M.A.S.H., every hour on the hour, as both his demeanor and the mood of the house grew darker.
Well, one sunny Saturday, whilst having my coffee and beginning my day, sitting at the small table in the “dining” area of the dining room/kitchen portion of our home, I heard “Herself” begin making a raucous cacophony of excited shouts from the backyard where she had gone to do some of the spring cleanup as we began to move out, into the limited outdoors of our little chain link fenced back yard. I wasn’t immediately sure if the rising din was born of joy, fear, injury, intrusion, or what might be causing it, but I was on my feet and moving at all best speed to discover if I was rushing to her defense or share in whatever unknown joy or threat it was that had befallen her.
As I exited through the sliding door into the three-season room leading to the back yard, I did hear the heavy and hurried footfall of our basement dwelling friend scurrying to the surface whereas he had also heard the call of the Lady of the house and was aroused and stirred to the extent that he too was hastening to meet whatever it was that awaited us. I burst through the back door of the three-season room, into the brilliant morning sunlight of the backyard, where I had to take a moment to determine where “Herself” was.
When I finally saw her, she was standing frozen in place on the walkway alongside the three-season room, just inside the gate to the back yard. I hurried over to where she stood riveted, eyes transfixed on something that I had yet to observe. I came to her side and stood motionless next to her in complete silence for a brief moment before in a hushed, almost reverent whisper she said, “look.”
I turned my gaze to where it seemed she was staring and there in the little garden space we had long since forgotten, several of those small, heretofore dormant rose starters had turned green and were in fact straining up from their dry, gray base. In fact, on one, the most amazing, beautiful, fully blown, velvety, deep-red rose was staring back at her almost as if to say, “See me. I am finally here… and will soon be surrounded by many colorful sisters and brothers. Thank you for this beautiful space.”
The two of us stood there in awed silence for what seemed like an exceptionally long time, but in actuality could only have been a moment whereas my basement dwelling friend, only a few steps behind me, hurriedly sidled up alongside us. There, all three of us stood transfixed, gazing at this astounding red rose – the advance guard of what was to become a truly brilliant and beautiful plot of ground for the remaining few years we were in that home.
And yet, while “Herself” and I stood transfixed on the rose, unbeknownst to us, my friend was riveted on something entirely different – a fact we could not have known until the silence was broken as our subterranean friend whispered out in a raspy burst of air like a steam valve letting loose, “look at the thorns on that thing…”
Yes. You heard me correctly. While we stood there enveloped in the rapture of this one, singularly perfect rose… taking in the fullness of the moment when life sprang from what we had long ago given up as dead… in that perfect moment, all my friend could see was the thorns.
So, this is the part where we all take a moment and just shake our heads and sigh… And thus, I will conclude here, where the two threads of this long, short story are rejoined. But before I do, why did I tell you all of this? What is the point? I will just leave you with this simple thought: It is your choice. You can choose to be mesmerized and raised up by the beauty of the bud… or you can be transfixed and brought low by the prickly threat of the thorn. Either way, it takes both to be a rose.