Memories of The Flower Show are in full bloom

On their very first date, way back in 1931, my par­ents went to the Phil­adelphia Flower Show. My moth­er was a 20-year-old beauty. My fath­er was a dash­ing young law­yer of 26.

The ro­mance took off quickly, and they were mar­ried be­fore the next spring. My moth­er al­ways in­sisted that she ac­cep­ted this ar­dent suit­or’s pro­pos­al be­cause he had shown her just how lovely the world could be. My fath­er al­ways said that she was more beau­ti­ful than the most beau­ti­ful rose at the show.

So it was prob­ably in­ev­it­able that my sis­ter and I were taken to the Phil­adelphia Flower Show as tots, tak­ing trol­leys and buses for what seemed an etern­ity to get to the old Com­mer­cial Mu­seum in Phil­adelphia near the Uni­versity of Pennsylvania’s cam­pus. 

It all seemed so vast to me. But it wasn’t cool to go to flower shows with your moth­er when the ele­ment­ary school years were over. I did go back once with my high school friends, but the mis­sion was not, alas, to smell the flowers. It was to be near Penn’s cam­pus to search out the cute guys all around us. 

And then I be­came a stu­dent at Penn my­self. Dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly stormy ro­mance, I still re­call buy­ing a lone tick­et to the Flower Show, and wan­der­ing around, blink­ing back tears at all that beauty be­cause I was so dra­mat­ic­ally mel­an­choly. But spring was just around the corner, and the flower show pro­pelled me past my broken heart.

When mar­riage and moth­er­hood took over the reins of my life, I do re­call try­ing to brave the show with my hus­band and three tiny girls in tow, and the misery of that ex­per­i­ence. But as the girls got older and a bit more reas­on­able, we did oc­ca­sion­ally head to the then-new Civic Cen­ter. De­pend­ing on their ages and moods, those trips were vari­ously suc­cess­ful. Of course, our daugh­ters grew up, and soon enough, it was back to just the two of us. And in the in­ev­it­able march of time and life’s pas­sages, my moth­er be­came a wid­ow. Each year, my hus­band and I would plan an af­ter­noon with her at the show.

How she loved it, even all those dec­ades after her young law­yer had squired her around. Her eyes al­ways sparkled on those Flower Show days, and she seemed to shed years. When the show moved down­town to the spank­ing new Con­ven­tion Cen­ter, it morph­ed in­to an even great­er ex­tra­vag­anza. There was the in­stant “Wow! factor” for Mom be­cause of the space.

By 2006, my moth­er’s health was fail­ing rap­idly, yet she des­per­ately wanted to get to that show. So my hus­band and I checked in­to wheel­chairs and han­di­cap ac­cess, and just when we thought we had it all figured out, Mom made her pro­nounce­ment. No more flower shows for her. I’ll nev­er for­get the resig­na­tion in her voice. She died later that year.

The next year, I couldn’t bring my­self to go to the show. Too many memor­ies lurk­ing. Too many pain­ful as­so­ci­ations. But I couldn’t stay away for long. 

That first year back, I walked and walked, a dazed, happy wan­der­er drink­ing in ruby red roses, the dainty vi­ol­ets, a splen­did lem­on tree. And I kept re­mem­ber­ing my moth­er’s face, and miss­ing her like crazy. Every­where I looked were ex­plo­sions of col­or. How she would have loved it. Last year, be­fore I left the show, I bought a tiny fern to carry away with me. It was still young and del­ic­ate, and not quite per­fect.

I rel­ished the idea of nur­tur­ing it. In a some­times too-quiet empty nest, I wanted something to care for. My moth­er, I know, would have un­der­stood.

I’ll be go­ing again this week­end.

Once again, I’ll pause to buy something alive and beau­ti­ful. It will be small and not too ex­pens­ive. And I’ll leave with sweet re­mem­brances of flower shows past… and of that couple I carry in my genes and my heart who once, long ago, found love among the flowers. ••

The 2014 Phil­adelphia Flower Show runs through March 9 at the Pennsylvania Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. 

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