A vase of pink carnations
This is my first daily writing prompt.
Tomorrow I will post a piece based on this prompt. If you want to join in why not look at the image and write as many words, fact or fiction, as the senses guide you to? Feel free to share your stories in comments or you can email them to me here.
Here’s what came up for me…..
My granny-in-law bought me a bunch of pinks the other week. I love having flowers in the house. I trimmed and popped them into a vase, grateful for the gift.
Pinks were always my mums flower. That isn’t to say they were her favourite – though equally, looking back, I can’t be sure they weren’t. Their arrival in the house always lit her up, a new dawn of joy rising through her and blossoming into a contagious burst of a smile. I on the other hand was a bit sniffy about carnations: they were the cheap and cheerful supermarket flower. Seemingly without season and, to my childish mind, without distinction, sophistication. An easy, thoughtless option. How little I understood.
My dad would buy pinks for my mum routinely. Unlike the stereotype he bought flowers without reason, spontaneously. He bought them consistently, thrilling in advance at the knowledge of the delight he was bringing home – pleased no doubt to be able to illicit such a response for such reasonable outlay.
Sometimes a more extravagant supermarket bunch would find their way home. I always preferred these ones. Decked out with gypsophila and strokes of greenery, these arrangements had depth and, well, class. Mum never really seemed to care. Her ‘Oh wow!’ was impulsive and joyously thankful irrespective of price or posturing.
For the main chunk of my adolescence, dad worked away in Jersey 2 – 3 times a year. Jersey, if you don’t know, is the home of the ‘flying flowers’: Carnations by mail, grown to an art form and shipped across the world. Pretty much every trip he made, or leastways when money (always tight in our house) allowed a box of these beauties would arrive chez nous, sent to his ‘darling Susie with love from Alan’.
Dad always seemed to be away in the darker months of the year, so these gloriously candy flushed flowers would arrive like a gentle carnival of frothy colour: A box of fresh-faced debutants, hopeful for dancing and love, they were a sweetly exciting beginning to any season.
I liked the variegated variety the best – lemon with fine pink veins streaking through them, or the ones that blushed a peachy orange sunset through from central bud to petal’s end. These were no common or garden pinks, a definite cut above the supermarket bunch, and worthy of a bit more respect from my scoffing teenaged self.
It’s funny. I thought this story was about mum, about the pleasure she experienced and expressed at something that I too readily dismissed as not all that impressive. I thought it was about her childlike openness to treats, about a connection to her and her wonderment that this recently gifted bunch of pinks has given to me. And in many senses it absolutely is. But also memory turns stepping-stone and pivots me in a different direction. I see now, this is also a story about my dad.
He was after all the man who bought the flowers – from Safeways or Jersey. He was, I suddenly remember out of nowhere, the man who loved canned carnation milk on his strawberries – despite hardly ever being allowed to indulge it, single or clotted cream being the more acceptable fruity desert accompaniment in our house. He was undoubtedly the man who loved to make my mum happy.
There’s one final bunch of carnations: Arriving back home in St Erth after a gruelling train journey to and from Derriford hospital in Plymouth, where we had been to ID dad, waiting for us in the porch was the first ‘In deepest sympathy’ bouquet. They were, I think, a delicate pale tangerine colour, neatly arranged, beautiful. I remember feeling hot and cold, repressing the scream that sounded out only in my stomach. I remember wanting to rip them apart, throw them away. I remember how I hated them, how it felt as though my dad had been reduced – from a real life human being, silly, funny, kind, a toe-tapping lover of music; a practical joker, the most tenacious tickler, the hardest to eject from bed on Christmas morning, the best hugger – to a bunch of flowers.
The thing is, you can never really know the gift you’re giving – or indeed receiving. I hated those carnations, but as the recollection of them has come back to me, it’s done so in a manner that I’ve been able to remember and enunciate my dad in a way I probably couldn’t back then. I love the pinks my granny-in-law gave me, just for themselves, but then also because they unlocked so many other memories from my adolescence and about my parents. Teasing out the connections petal by petal, enabling me to write my truth.