Lake of Flowers

It helps, when you are doing a chore you hate, to sing at the top of your lungs.  That’s what we three Harcourt kids did when we hoed the weeds in the strawberry patch.

            Our favorite number was something that we learned from our dad. It was a drinking song and that made it even better.  (Our version included  falsetto on the chorus, and basso profundo  at the end of a phrase.)  I can hear it now.  Cowboy yelps,  burps, and mock sobs were sometime added. Oh yes, the baby of the bunch, Bruce, would add a few dance steps right there in the Streamliner Strawberries that were pre-destined for Safeway in Glenwood Springs. Show-off.

Here's how it goes:

              There is a tavern in the town,   in the town,
              Where my true love sits him down,     sits him down,
              And drinks his wine 'mid all the  laughter free,
              And never, never thinks of me.

              Fare thee well, for I must leave thee,         
              Do not let this parting grieve thee,
              And remember that the best of friends must part,    must part.
              Adieu, adieu, kind friends,      adieu, adieu, adieu!
              I can no longer stay with you,      stay with you,
              I'll hang my harp on a weeping willow tree,
              And may the world go well with thee

            I must admit I had one of the major words wrong.  I thought it was:  I’ll hang my heart on the weeping willow tree. A heart in a willow tree. Now that is a romantic idea.  Not the anatomical, bloody real thing, but a lovely valentine-type heart.  Is it any wonder that I cannot eat  strawberries  without that tune playing in my head?  Or that a weeping willow seems so romantically sad?

            There’s something else I remember about a willow tree.  When your Mom pulls one of those little branches, and wields it against bare legs, one can dance a little jig to a different tune.  We kids called that “Peach Tree Tea”.  A little taste goes a long way!

            Ah yes, I remember Mama.  With great love. She was the Head of the Household, the Keeper of the Funds, the Overseer of  All.  We, including our dad,  stepped lively around her.  She was the hardest working woman I have known in my life.  Manual labor, shoveling out  the irrigation ditches, scrubbing the out-house with lye water, planting corn fields, dressing out a beef, she tackled it all .
She was the best cook in town, and I still long to sit at her table. She could take an old coat and re-create it into a wearable, fairly stylish version for me. That’s how she showed her love, not with words, never with words, but with her labor.

            She hated graves, tombstones, and funerals and made us promise that we would do none of that for her.  So for the past two years I have tried to think of something I could do to honor my little mother, who lived with me again for eleven of her last years.  Then the idea came as clearly as if she had commanded it.  I would plant a garden, her kind of garden. 

            It is October, 2007.  Jack helped me a lot.  He claims to not know what end of the plant to put in the earth, but he did okay.  More than okay.  And our 10x36’ plot is filled with  hydrangeas, azaleas, cone flowers, salvia, stock, alyssum, heather,  nandina, iris, flowering kale, that vegetable cabbage “rose”,  and sleeping under a cover of white cyclamen and daisies lie 50 tulip bulbs now inching their way upward to a grand Ta-DA! next spring.  My friend, Leila, who wanted to pay her respects in her own way, has brought me a little packet of freesia bulbs to tuck in a corner.

            One end of the garden is anchored by a newly planted redbud tree that will break forth in scarlet-purple blossoms next spring.  At its feet is a  nest of succulents, hens and chicks, symbolic of mother-love. 

            The other end of the garden ends with the exclamation point of a crepe myrtle.  Petite Pinkie is its name, Mother would love it.

            It is not a spectacular sight right now.  But it is becoming.  Next spring and summer when you come to my house, please enjoy it with me.  And if you see the chair I planted, the old wire ice cream chair that is now being embraced by a climbing ficus, well, smile with me.  And listen to  the ladder of old rusted bells, that gently clink in the wind.

            Now let me dedicate this lake of flowers to her by sharing some of her personal data.  I promise not to bore you.

            She despised her name.

            But she wore it like a hair shirt.  Never tried to change it, accepting it just as she did everything else in life.


            But never to me and my brothers.

            She was Mama or Mamacita. To my dad she was The Little General or Shorty, and when she stormed about he would whisper “Pancho Villa” to us. To her grandchildren, Grandma.  Her great-granchildren expanded it to Grandma Harcourt, except Brooks whose baby words could only manage part of it.  He called her Harcourt, and she loved it. She was blind then and delighted to hear his baby feet run toward her with the shout of “Harcourt!”

            Minnie Beatrice McLain married her teenage sweetheart, Ben B. (B. for Brimm, discarded early-on) Harcourt.  Handsome, funny, hard-working and brave, he was her husband for life.

            The photos you see here were taken in 1945. Minnie was 27 and Ben was 29.


            If I was to choose a symbolic memorial for my father it would be a fishing pole and a mountain stream.  That was his biggest pleasure in life.

            He wanted no one to weep at his passing, and asked us to remember him just as he was and never visit a grave.  He said he wanted to be cremated and flushed down a toilet.  But we didn’t do that, not the latter.
His legacy was songs and stories, corny jokes, and a memory of him tap-dancing in the kitchen.  I bless his name today too.

            So here’s to a little lady with a green thumb.  ( Four feet, eleven inches tall if she stretched.)

            Gardening was her passion. (Or was it reading?  Okay gardening/reading.)  We lived very humbly, but we were surrounded by flower and vegetable gardens that were spectacularly beautiful.  We moved so many times and each time she cleaned up, repaired, and planted a garden.  She left this world a better place.

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