As a child, we often grew a row of sunflowers across our front lawn during the summer. They stood proudly, happy yellow faces full of cheer and life. Our yard was filled with flowers. The sweet smell of Lily-of-the-Valley wafted through my window each spring, followed by luscious, prolific lilac bushes and sensuous climbing roses that crept up the trellis on the side of our house.
I love flowers, all kinds of flowers, but these fifty years later I’m hard-pressed to find a flower that puts a smile on my face quite like a sunflower.
Directly across the busy road from our house, was the Wood’s house, where my friend Dee lived. I know that when the Wood kids came out their front door and walked down their steps, our sunflowers were waving across the street.
Over the years, both Dee and I moved on to different states, me to California and then Washington, and Dee to Vermont, Maine, Minnesota and finally Massachusetts. This past decade, as she battled breast cancer, I occasionally sent her sunflowers to celebrate a birthday or brighten her day. Toward the end of her illness, I know she enjoyed sitting in the sunroom at the back of her home, a lovely space lined with windows and painted a delicious shade of sunflower yellow. I would imagine those flowers sitting beside her as she read a book and it warmed my heart. I couldn’t be there, but I felt as if I was watching over her shoulder.
For Dee’s 50th birthday, last October, I sent sunflowers and by some miraculous slip, the florist delivered two bundles. Dee called us, concerned that we’d been double-billed. We hadn’t been but even if we had, I was thrilled to know two bunches of yellow blooms were sharing her day.
Dee died shortly before Christmas. I traveled to Maine to attend her memorial. It was a sobering trip with heavy gray skies on both ends of the journey. Her husband and family chose to have her ashes rest at three meaningful sites, a beach on the coast of Maine where Dee’s brother Mark’s ashes were also scattered, a lake in Minnesota by the college Dee’s husband, Gaylen, attended and where he asked for her hand in marriage, and a family plot near Syracuse, New York where Dee grew up.
Today is the day Dee’s remaining ashes are being interred in upstate New York. I wasn’t able to make the trip but tomorrow, a bouquet of sunflowers will arrive at her parents’ home.
In Seattle, the sky is as blue as the ocean in York, Maine on a sunny afternoon some twenty-one years ago to the day, when she and Gaylen said their vows. The sun shines brightly and warms my shoulders, as I sit on the back deck of the Urban Cabin, writing these words and remembering my friend. In a vase, just beside me, are sunflowers.