The azaleas have returned to my neighborhood like old friends.
Pink blossoms that have been budding for weeks appeared as if it all happened overnight, brightening branches all over town. My friends in other states are still shoveling snow from sidewalks and off doorsteps, so I often send them random photos of show-stopping Lady Banks roses climbing over the neighbor’s fence and punctuating the garden with sunny yellow blooms. Earlier I sent enviable snapshots of the Japanese magnolias lining the brick streets. I’m just mean like that, if you choose to look at it that way, or perhaps I am generously sharing these harbingers of spring. You decide. In return, I get photos of snow-covered park benches, treetops and the occasional powdery-dusted Subaru, accompanied by an eye-roll emoji.
The South is famous for sweet tea, beauty queens and springtime, among other things. Spring flowers remind me of all the times I spent in my mama’s yard covered from head-to-toe in planting soil and sweat while she observed curiously, and occasionally advised, from the best seat, which was her porch swing. The myriad of azaleas in every color from white to endless shades of pink were like little colorful kisses from heaven. I planted them everywhere soft enough to dig a hole with Daddy’s old worn-out shovel, from one side of the yard to the other. Azaleas lined the concrete sidewalk which was a racetrack and thoroughfare for little boys on tricycles, turning to bicycles over time.
The end of that sidewalk is where the big yellow school bus collected me from first grade until my cousin Misty Ann’s Volkswagen beetle took over when we were in high school. It was where I parked my own car later in life when I came home to spend weekends with Mama. She was often waiting on the front porch in that same old swing, and this time of year I could look back over my shoulder to see a glimpse of her through the canopy of azaleas waving both hello and goodbye, not quite as well-tended as when I was their gardener years earlier. Oh, how I hold onto that imprint in my mind.
Flowers are truly like family to me because with each passing season we wait to see them again, often wondering if they will have changed this time next year or if this might be their final season. Some are standouts, while some hide in the shade, creating a backdrop for others to shine.
As they fade away into summer, their memory lingers. Before the blooms have gone, I am already anticipating their return next year, along with the memories they bring with them.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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