I have an amazing story to share with you today.
Do you remember when I posted a Farmhouse Contest Giveaway a few weeks ago? It was a joy to watch people participate and it was super fun to select the winners of a variety of useful gifts representing the various parts of building a home (gift certificates for home renovation and kitchen enjoyment; flowers for Mother’s Day; organic biodynamic seeds for an at-home garden). One of the prizes, second place, was a farm-fresh bouquet from our property. I planned out the bouquet and communicated with the contest winner about sending the bouquet to her mama in the state of Georgia. She told me about her mom and I started feeling so excited to be a part of celebrating such a lovely person who has lived such a full and interesting life, full of joy and tragedy and difficulty and strength and mammoth amounts of the everyday stuff that makes life go on: The courage to get up every day and do it all over again, and to do it in the service of others.
I gathered flowers from our property and arranged them the day I planned to ship them. I knew it would be tricky to send fresh flowers across the country (especially such frilly, fragile flowers like lilacs) so I decided to FedEx them overnight to make sure they arrived the morning before Mother’s Day. I spent quite a bit of time on the endeavor, calling the local FedEx store to confirm delivery times, buying floral foam and flower stem water tubes and a cold pack and several flowers to augment those that are growing here right now, and wandering about the property finding the freshest flowers to put in the bouquet. I found a card and hand-wrote the requested message, and began arranging the flowers.
I knew I should lay them flat in a box made to accommodate long-stem flowers. But as I began arranging them to get a sense of how to layer them, I thought to myself that I should just send an arranged bouquet because it was so much prettier and by gosh why should this nice mama have to arrange her own flowers? Distance be darned, I was going to figure out a way to make it work. (This, by the way, is newbie thinking. This is what novices do. I am a novice flower FedExer.)
The bouquet was gorgeous. I still needed to tuck a few longer-stemmed lilacs into it, but I was happy. It was time to take it to the store and send it away.
As I was heading out, my daughter asked to join me. This, as it turns out, was a solid move from providence, because later I realized I had no idea what I would have done without her help–nor, as it turns out, what I would have done if she hadn’t been with me as this story came to a close later on in a goosebump-inducing experience that is still rocking my world.
Away we went, giant bouquet balanced on my daughter’s lap, Mother’s Day card tucked in my purse, addresses and directions in my phone, and various packaging bits and pieces set in the car for just in case. At this point it should be noted that this entire day had been put into play weeks before when I posted the contest and people started participating. It was the finale of the contest giveaway and it had already brought so much joy that I was excited to finish strong.
When we arrived at the shipping store, I was told that I couldn’t send my bouquet. It was too big, too unwieldy, and it contained a glass vase. All no-no’s for FedEx shipping. I asked about all the different workarounds and nobody was quite sure. I thought I could lay it flat and was preparing to take it apart. The kind woman assisting us kept commenting on how beautiful the flowers were, and soon everyone was commenting on how amazing they smelled, and then there was talk of Hope (with a capital ‘H’) and “Why not?” and “By golly why shouldn’t we send such a beautiful bouquet in the mail, rules be darned!” and all such other lovely references to giving things a try and suddenly I had a billion bits of packing paper and tape and a couple of boxes and voila! I was going to send my bouquet to Georgia.
(Photos taken by my daughter.)
As I was wrapping and taping and constructing the cardboard carrier for my bouquet, I was asked who the lucky recipient was–my mom? My grandma? A special aunt? I laughed as I explained that I didn’t know who the person was but she sounded extremely sweet. Everyone was quite taken with this idea of working away to get these flowers to their intended, if unknown, recipient.
And finally after much ado this is what the package looked like:
Can you imagine getting this package on your doorstep? Wouldn’t you feel a bit like the Queen of England in terms of importance? And might you open up this majorly serious piece of equipment and find a bit of shock that it was all a big ruse for a simple bouquet of farm-fresh flowers? Nevertheless, we were too far in already so away we went and we weighed it and measured it and checked the distance and let’s see, was it $191 to ship it overnight? Hmm… Perhaps that was wrong. (And honestly at this point I was pulling out my money and just sort of holding up my hands to the sky because I’ve learned by now that learning these lessons can be humbling and at times costly and that really there is something to be said for listening to the words of logic ahead of time and readjusting one’s plan. But there are times when we need to keep learning that lesson until we get it right, and this was, ahem, one of those times.) My humble bouquet hardly seemed worth nearly $200 and I considered the high-class experience that could be purchased locally in Georgia for my gift recipient, but nope! I would proceed.
“Ok, so that comes to $439,” said the confused FedExer.
“No way. Really?” I asked, starting to giggle. “For reals? Like, no joke?” I had laughter bubbling up from my heart in hiccups and hilarity. Of course it was nearly $500. Of course.
“No, unfortunately that’s the price for overnight shipping for a box this size,” explained the bemused shop assistants, looking over at me with sadness and surprise.
We all processed this for a few minutes, all agreeing immediately that the answer was obvious. My daughter and I looked at each other–her wide-eyed and me full of laughter and shock and also a pretty calm well, there you go, lesson learned. There was obviously no way I would spend that. I thought of all that money that could go instead to donations to our local food bank, or payment toward a fun sports camp for our kids, or a fund for our flower farm, or seeds, or oh gosh so many things.
I thanked them for their help and explained I would find a florist in Georgia to send fresh flowers to my contest winner’s beautiful mama in the morning.
“Who will you give this bouquet to?” asked the assistant.
“My mom. She’ll totally love it,” I explained. And then I paused. This entire bouquet had been constructed for a stranger for the sole purpose of surprising them with love from across the country. Somehow it was incredibly clear in that moment that the entire purpose of the bouquet would be lost if I gave it to someone I knew, albeit my own sweet deserving Mama.
“Unless you know someone who might like it?” I asked. “Any mamas or amazing women who might like to be cheered up with this bouquet?”
And to my surprise, my question brought tears to the shop assistant’s eyes.
“Well, actually, I do,” she said, bursting into tears. She stood with her hands over her face for many minutes before, calming her sobs, she said, “There’s a woman over at the inpatient nursing home. It’s her birthday today.” She held her hands over her mouth trying to still the crying, but she couldn’t.
“Yes, that’s exactly right. That’s where these flowers should go,” I said, teary-eyed and hugging my daughter who was brimming with love and inspiration. “Here you go,” I said, handing over the bouquet.
“Well, I think you should deliver it,” said the shop assistant, both of us staring at each other with tears and shock at this oddly magical moment that felt as if the final strand of the braid was being woven into place.
As she wrote out the name of the new bouquet recipient, we learned that she was turning 83. Born in 1936, she was a survivor of the Russian Jewish holocaust and had arrived to Washington a refugee before starting her life in Tacoma and then relocating to our island.
That’s when the goosebumps really took hold for me. I had recently spent our spring break brought to intense tears for several days while reading Kristin Hannah’s A Winter Garden, a story of a Russian woman in WWII who endured such sadness and despair and starvation that I could hardly bear to read a page more. It was halfway through spring break that I found myself in bed sobbing, curled into a small ball of a body trying to endure the story of yet another life lost to starvation and war. I spent days in a daze of despair from the visceral reality of this novel. Our new bouquet recipient had a name that was so similar to the protagonist of A Winter Garden that I stood in a state of total, stunned awe at the way a story can begin and unfold in the most unexpected of ways that can feel quite suddenly completely predetermined.
Suddenly here I was with my daughter on our small pinprick of an island carrying flowers from a lilac tree from our land. These blooms likely lived through the war, too. How many bouquets had they made? They have been clipped from their tree and delivered beauty and joy to countless island households for years. And I was about to join hands with my daughter and deliver a bouquet created for an amazing mama and grandma in Georgia and instead delivering them by hand to a great-grandma around the corner who was a survivor of genocide.
Needless to say, I am crying as I write this. How could I not be?
Indeed, as I write this, I am amazed to realize that the shop assistant and the former owner of my old farmhouse share the same name.
Hugs and love all around in the print shop and my daughter and I walked out of the building, drove three blocks to the nursing home, entered through the security doors, and walked down to her room.
Inside, there was a beautiful woman dressed in a blue robe napping alone on her hospital bed, lying by a window littered with flower bouquets and cards. I gently touched her leg. She woke and stared at us with bright, gorgeous blue eyes that seemed to go straight to her core.
Her phone was ringing but she didn’t know how to answer it. She was missing calls from her daughter, her granddaughters, and her friends.
My daughter sat by her and helped her learn how to use her phone; how to return missed calls and how to use FaceTime, and how to answer the phone when it rang.
We sat with her and wished her a very happy birthday and told her she was so lucky to be so loved and so seen, that she had clearly lived an important life because look at how many people wanted to celebrate her.
As my daughter worked with her phone, speaking loudly enough to be heard, and smiling from ear to ear, I found myself staring out the window at the big, flowering trees outside the window–the magnolia tree, the lilac tree, the maple. And I thought, I have been spending so much time this season considering how to plant food for our family but let’s never forget the power of food for the spirit.
Her bright blue eyes centered on the bouquet and she kept repeating, “Nobody forgot, it is so kind that nobody forgot.” Here was a woman who had lived through decades of impossibility and yet here she was. Her phone kept ringing and her granddaughter called to bless her with a Russian blessing, calling former family members around her hospital bed and surrounding her with the love of generations.
When my daughter and I left the nursing home, entering the security code to allow the double doors to open for our exit, I felt a sense of complete awe, humility, and gratitude–for my old farm built before WWI, gratitude to our former farmhouse owner for planting the lilacs, gratitude to the shop assistant for believing in Hope with a capital H and enthusiastically helping us try to send my humble bouquet to a mama in Georgia, awe for our final recipient because there aren’t enough words to encapsulate what she endured in her lifetime living through the Russian holocaust to arrive strong and mighty at the other side of tragedy, creating a legacy of love that was ringing through her phone with calls from around the country from her offspring, and love for the woman who participated in my contest giveaway and set this entire story in motion, and an absolute certainty in my bones as I held my daughter’s hand and felt deep in my being that stories are what make us live for another day–stories of strength, stories of hope, stories of possibility and potential just around the corner, stories of endurance, stories that are as fragile as the tree sitting dormant through winter storms and weather and blight and impossibility but that still blooms on the branch in springtime to share their sweetness through another season of joy and thanksgiving.
When I got home, I wrote to my contest recipient and explained the situation. She wrote back the sweetest message saying that it was exactly right–her mother had been a tremendous proponent and support of the Jewish population in Georgia, and had paid for two Russian Jewish young people to make Aliyah. They are living in Israel now. Her mother would think this was the sweetest result ever.
My goodness. Oh.
I researched florists in Georgia. The next morning, I called a 5-star florist in Atlanta and explained how important it was that a big, elegant bouquet arrive in beautiful shape for the lovely recipient with long-stem roses, seasonal flowers, and a beautiful palette. They arrived last evening and I am told they were very appreciated.
And so the circle and the story this time is complete.
I sit with hands folded, staring at our garden now, watching small seeds push through the soil. The work to start, to live, to endure, and to fully hold oneself through all the cycles of life is a stunning act of courage every day.
To all the mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers out there: You are seen today. You are more than you know. You are strength and endurance and joy for every one of us. You are the start of life and the holders of it all. Thank you for all that you do every day to not only love us, but to remember the importance of fueling yourself because you are the carrier of all the generations and stories before you and all the stories to follow.
We love you.
Happy Mother’s Day!