Thursday, September 25, 2014

dahlias and dogs

His dahlias were always beautiful.

When the Burkes (including that red-headed girl who had won my fourth grade heart) moved away, an older couple moved in.  They lived on property behind us that once belonged to our house on Risley.

Mr. and Mrs. Strang.  That is how I knew them.  For people a generation older, my brother and I used honorifics.  Calling a 50-year old woman "Mary" was as unthinkable as an adult taking our childish ways seriously.

Scots, they were.  With accents as thick as the oatmeal they ate.

They treated my brother and me with kindness.  Most of that centered around their bumptious Irish setter, Heather.  She loved running circles in our back garden.

But it was Mr. Strang's dahlias that came to mind yesterday morning.  Ken, Patti, and I arrived in Olympia late Tuesday night.  When I woke up yesterday morning, I was welcomed by a sea of dahlias.  Grown by the neighbor next door to the Latsches.

Those dahlias were nice.  But Mr. Strang's were better.  Or, at least, my memory is that they were better.  Memories can do that.  Facts get mangled in the service of nostalgia.

My memory can be trusted on one point, though.  Mr. Strang was generous with the fruits of his labors.  He regularly handed over bouquets, wet with morning dew, for my mother.  And, as I said at the start, they were beautiful.  And large.

I learned several things from that generous man.  Unfortunately, the art of growing dahlias was not one of them.  My attempts in Milwaukie and Salem produced the faintest of copies.

What I did learn was a love for big dogs.  In the form of golden retrievers, for me.  And an appreciation for the art of working hard to create something beautiful.

But, most of all, I learned the power of generosity.  How something as simple as a flower can build lasting relationships.

After Mr. Strang died, Mrs. Strang's debilitating arthritis and a stroke put her in a nursing home.  Despite her physical limitations, her accountant-trained mind was always in high gear.

I enjoyed the hours we would spend once a month reminiscing about our shared days on Risley and trying to figure out the almost undecipherable ways of Medicare.  The first was always exhilarating; the latter was frustrating, and has left me with an ongoing distrust of government medical insurance.

Mrs. Strang died almost 30 years ago.  And, to this day, I remember her and her husband as mentors.  Through their generosity and kindness, I learned new things about myself.

Things -- such as the mere glimpse of a flower that casts a spotlight on a niche of my past that I thought was long forgotten.

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