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Open Road

by Catherine Watson
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September 2011 Archives

Daylillies

When I was little, my younger brother and I spent our summers at our grandparents' cabin up north, while my parents stayed home in Minneapolis with the even-littler children. The cabin was a kids' paradise - thick pine woods, a safely shallow lake, a sandy beach, minnows to catch, little shells to collect and, best of all, Grammie's blueberry pies (baked on top of a kerosene stove) and Grampa's projects. He liked to work wood, and he built things - once, a swing for us under a big oak and, one summer, a tee-pee tall enough for grown-ups to stand in. And the cabin itself, which is still in my family.

Grampa also gardened. One summer, he planted daylilies near the garage and built a couple of wooden tubs beside the house and filled them with good soil and flower seeds. We still have a color snapshot of my grandmother in a red dress, beaming proudly beside a tub of pink zinnias and orange marigolds.

The whole property was shady, and the sunlight in that photo is so dappled that, when I look at it with adult eyes, I'm surprised those flowers bloomed. The daylilies, in even deeper shade, never did. But they still came up every year.

Every summer for more than 50 years now, when the first wave of relatives goes up north to open the cabin for the season, someone invariably points to their stringy green leaves and says, "Oh, look, Grampa's daylilies!'' And someone else adds, "After all these years!''

There's a lesson in this kind of botanical persistence, but I've never been sure what it is. This summer, I found out.

We opened the cabin later than usual this year, and I didn't get up there until late July. The neighbors had been at work by then, thinning out the woods between our properties, taking down dead trees and cutting out straggly oaks and skinny pines that had been too crowded to thrive, so the place looked brighter and more open than I remembered. I was unloading my car when I noticed something else - a spot of orange over by the garage....

Grampa's daylilies. After all these years. They had outlived the trees that shaded them - outlived my grandparents and parents too - and for the first time in my life, they were blooming.

It isn't stubbornness they represent - it's patience. And that makes the lesson of the daylilies about more than mere tenacity. I find it comforting to think about them now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11, in a time of economic troubles and ever-bitterer politics.

Sometimes, when you least expect it -- when you've lost hope and given up -- sometimes a bit of sun breaks through. And something blooms.