yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Somewhere, back in the memory vaults for about 1960, I can see a shrub that my maternal grandfather planted in his garden (oddly, the only thing I ever remember him planting), one that he called “yesterday, today, and tomorrow” because the flowers of the day before remained on the plant, which I now know was Brunfelsia pauciflora. Of course no flowers of tomorrow could exist today, so really there are flowers of three different colors, white changing to pale violet, changing to purple, as the flowers age.

I see this in my mind’s eye and feel anxiety associated with it, because my parents were planning to move away, away from this garden. The garden and the house were a model of how I wanted my life to turn out; an older house, smelling of old furniture and books, where I could sit and spend time reading or poring over maps of places I’d never visit, and a garden full of mysterious dark corners, and, elsewhere, plants nodding in the rainless sun-drenched summers of Los Angeles. My grandfather was retired and I thought the whole thing was idyllic. It was probably anything but.

My grandfather was a military doctor and was with MacArthur in New Guinea and the Philippines. He never talked about his experience. When my father suffered a massive head wound at the Punchbowl in Korea in 1952 the Army doctors told my mother he was going to be a vegetable, but my father recovered, actually making medical history. He was paralyzed on his right side, had expressive aphasia, and violent seizures for the rest of his life. My parents moved to California to be close to my mother’s parents. Looking back on this now, reading the letters between my two grandfathers (my paternal grandfather retired a major general), talking with appalling frankness, and at the same time hope, it seems clear that a life I saw as perfect was probably permeated with endless horrors.

Meanwhile I spent some of the time at my grandparents’ house wandering around the garden, poring over the garden catalogs, playing with wooden flats, and helping my grandfather stick nails in the ground to turn the hydrangea blue.

My father recovered to the extent that he was able to hold down a job for over thirty years, which is why, back in 1960, moving was on everyone’s mind. We moved to Denver. I started a garden.

Being the black sheep, I didn’t follow in the military tradition, but found my way into a steady job, where, within a few years, I met my wife. I started a garden. A couple of years later we moved to the house in which I live now, and I started a garden again. This one got completely out of control within just a few years. There were plants everywhere.

Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, the layout of this garden closely resembles the garden I grew up with in Los Angeles, though there is no enormous three-trunked pecan tree right in the middle of the back yard, no swing, and no 1920s apartment building, straight out of a story by Raymond Chandler, looming over the shed.

My wife would often use the word “bliss” to describe sitting out in the garden, sometimes weeding, on days when I was at work. The whole thing, the garden, having two border collies to help, and especially, oh so especially, being with her, was as near to bliss as anything I ever imagined.

I retired in 2007, looking forward to growing old with my wife, spending time with her, the dogs, and the garden, not having to drive to work on snowy days. I would stand out in the garden thinking to myself that this was too good to be true.

Two years later my wife died of a heart attack, without warning, in my arms, with the dogs at her side. She was 51.

I didn’t know what to do with my new life, so I bought plants. Plants from local nurseries, plant sales, and mail order. I wound up giving away most of the shrubs I bought, because I wasn’t thinking about how big they might get when I planted them eight inches apart, but I kept the smaller plants.

I noticed one of new plants in bloom today: Onosma caerulescens. It isn’t quite the same as the brunfelsia, but the flowers open cream-colored, fade to red, then to purple as the calyces dry up. My version of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

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11 Responses to yesterday, today, and tomorrow

  1. I’ve been reading your recent entries daily (although that smart dog seems to have taken over). I intend to read the entire archive this winter, but I went back tonight to try to find the back story, and I just want to say I am so very sorry for your terrible loss.

    • paridevita says:

      Thanks. I had a blog for a while, before this one, which I deleted after my wife died. The basic story is that I retired from the phone company in 2007. I retired to spend the rest of my life with Cindy. She died of a heart attack, here in the house, in my arms, without any warning, in 2009. She was 51. My dog, Slipper, died of liver cancer 364 days later. So here I am, with her dog, living the life I always dreamed of, but without the one person I wanted to live it with. There are way too many lessons to be learned from this.
      I started the new blog as a kind of therapy. (I see a therapist, too.) Gardening, obsessive gardening, has become a way to get through this, because gardening makes me happy. The blog title is actually a joke; I suggested it to a friend of mine and she thought it was funny, and so do I. Paridevita, by the way, is the Sanskrit for miserable. (I originally typed it “paridevati” which means “parrot-faced”, and that spelling does appear here and there.) I am not completely miserable, since I don’t have to work, or do much of anything, which suits me just fine.
      Cindy spoiled her dogs rotten. We met working for the phone company, and I said it was okay for her to quit in early 1983, so she spent the rest of her life at home, where she wanted to be. All of the dogs here have had someone at home all the time. That makes them pretty spoiled. Chess is the most spoiled of all, but I’m perfectly happy staying at home with him. He follows me around the garden, sometimes, but not nearly as much as he did when Cindy was here.
      I figured I would let the dog do the posting for a while, since I’m busy in the garden …..

      • Getting through what you have experienced without being completely miserable is an achievement. I find life and death mystifying and disturbing. Gardening is a good distraction from wondering WHY?

      • You did give Cindy the opportunity to spend years at home which is a gift beyond measure.

      • paridevita says:

        Yes, and she was aware of it the whole time. Occasionally expressed guilt over it, which I said was ridiculous, since me having a steady job with benefits outweighed all that.

  2. Kim Bone says:

    Oh, thank you…So beautiful.

  3. Kim Bone says:

    Not so beautiful, my dad spent a winter in a fox hole and some time on Heart-Break Ridge, Korea. Wish he was here so I could ask him about the Punchbowl. He would know…

    • paridevita says:

      I suppose twenty or thirty years ago there would have been people online who could have told the story. Soldiers who were with my dad when he was wounded. Not so much any more, I guess.

  4. Kim Bone says:

    In ’02’ I think? I helped get my Dad to the 50th year reunion of the Korean War, it was in South Dakota, I think? He’d had a stoke and was mildly ill with alcoholism, but he really wanted to go, so we got there. He wandered around looking for his old buddies, pretty forlorn, finally returning to my side declaring; I’ve seen one person I know and he’s a person, ‘I didn’t like.’ He pointed the guy out, he was kinda a weird fixture for the whole trip, nothing we fixated on, but weird. I guess we had a good time? I remember a few good stories. But, nothing like the ones I heard from Jim those ‘few and far between’ evenings that him and I would find ourselves in that comfortable spot him telling me his ‘war stories.’ Since reading this blog I have been going over them in my head and am saddened that they seem to be dwindling from my memory. Like the stories of my Grandmother Viva growing-up on a cattle ranch in the Yampa Valley in the early 1900’s. Those were good stories as well, and have dwindled as well…Those were my story tellers: my dad ‘Jim Bone’ and my Grandma ‘Genevieve Josephine Scribner,’ her nickname was Viva. I always liked her nickname ‘to live’ and boy those pioneer days were brutal my little grannie needed that name. I will point out that as brutal as the pioneer days were they are not to be compared to the ‘Hell of War.’

    Anyway, I’m having the worst time, my ‘Man in Brown’ packed-up all his belonging and left yesterday. I met him about 5 years ago, I was loading his truck at UPS and we hit it off (kinda-not-really) in retrospect. He drove away yesterday… Leaving me to figure out ‘The Life of Kim’ all alone again at fifty. I tell you life ain’t easy… At least it is going to be 60 degrees and I’m gonna work in the garden all day long and forget all of my worries.

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