Today was the day. Marked it on the kitchen wall calendar, which hangs next to the sink because we can always use a little more art in this joint, especially now.
I poured a mug of coffee and sat in my favorite chair, the one by the window, which was cracked open to the 50-degree morning. The breakfast crew was chirping away in the platform bird feeder, and I wanted to hear the gossip.
I reached for the flower press and set it on my lap. Slowly, I turned each corner's wing nut until I could twirl it up the column of metal and release the two wooden planks pressed together like a sandwich to hold layers of tissue paper and cardboard.
I had never before spent even a moment thinking about why they're called wing nuts, but that was in the before times, when I was rushing through life. I'm not proud of that. From now on, I will think of little angels every time I free a wing nut from its incarceration.
I lifted the top piece of wood and peeled back the layers of paper and thought about how my mother once described this moment. "It comes back to you," she told me in the last year of her life, which is when she took up this hobby. "Just when you think you've had to leave them behind, there they are! And they're bringing the good memories with them."
She was talking about the flowers my father grew for her, every spring and summer, and how much they enjoyed spending time together in their garden. He planted; she swooned. That was their deal.
After she was diagnosed with a terminal illness, she took up flower pressing. At the time, she said it helped to occupy her mind, but later, I understood it was a way to preserve what she could of her life that was slipping away. She framed her first arrangement and gave it to me. It rests on a shelf in my home office with her handwritten note dated July 25, 1999, wedged behind it:
My daughter, Connie,
I knew when I was making my very first dried flower (framed), that I was giving it to you! So there is a lot of love, fun, enthusiasm, and most of all a Mother's Love in this gift! I hope you like it. I love you.
She drew a heart at the end of that sentence and a smiley face next to her name. Less than two months later, she was gone.
As much as I love my wildflowers, it never occurred to me to pick up Mom's hobby until my sister Toni gave me the small box of her supplies, which included several frames. "Well, why not?" I thought. "Where am I rushing to now?"
I removed the final sheet of tissue and, just as Mom had said, there they were, the colorful remains of blooms I had picked in late July. I wasn't sure of the names for all of them, so I asked my Facebook community, and, as always, those generous souls did not disappoint. More than 200 comments later, there's no consensus on all of them, but I love thinking my oh-so-amateur debut includes a bachelor's button, a sweet William and a naughty Marietta.
Mom was right. These are more than flowers. They are reminders that, in this time of isolation and loss, life has still been beautiful, and this time, I took the time to notice. Once again, I want to tell Mom all about it. This yearning for the departed is as old as life itself. The longer we outlive them, the more stories we want to tell them. This is how we keep them alive in our hearts.
They can still surprise us, in their secret ways. I was halfway through this column when a dear friend reminded me that today is the day, the anniversary of my mother's death.
And here I am, writing about flowers and birds and feeling grateful. If I close my eyes, I can see her smile.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz ([email protected]) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.