Thirty-nine years ago, when I was expecting my first child, my father planted red and yelow tulips down the border of his sidewalk. It became a custom to take pictures of the children in from of them each year. Sometimes, I would be in the picture with them. At first, there was just me and my baby boy, in a few years, a sister appeared with us. The tulips became a way to keep up with how my family was growing.
In years to come, I would have six children. There would be years when some of the older ones weren’t in the picture. Once in a while, we would give up on getting a lot of them together and just take a photograph of whoever we could catch up with at the moment.
I think we all saw Spring having “officially” come whenever Dedah’s Tulips bloomed. Dedah was my childrens name for my father.
Last year, my father was very sick, I was taking him to the doctor two or three times a week. It would be the last year we took pictures of dedahs tulips, with my father smiling , unseen in the background.
This year, my father is gone, I am cleaning out the house that he and my mother shared for 61 years, until her death several years ago. Along the way, I lost my 15 year old son. Taking pictures of the tulips had begun to remind us, not of spring, but of what we had lost. The work is exhausting, the memories take my breath away.
Right before Easter Sunday this year, my son, who was living next door to my father told me, “You know, mom, Aunt Phyllis’ tulip have bloomed and Dedah’s haven’t. Aunt Phyllis lived up the hill from my parents and their flowers would always bloom at the same time.
It got to the point where I found myself dreading the trips to clean out their house so badly, there would be weeks when I didn’t go. Watching as the house became more and more empty, the losses and sweet memories of my children growing up fresh in my mind, was just too emotional as I thought of my youngest, now 6 ‘5″ tall. Seeing another room emptied, cleaning out another cabinet, had become so painful to me that it was nearly unbearable.
Today, it was the day before “trash day”, so I felt I needed to go do some cleaning, inspite of my dread. I walked down the brick steps that my father had replaced maybe ten years ago, after I teased him about the steps feeling like walking down a waterfall when it rained. As I reached the bottom of the steps, I noticed that the tulips, now scattered, with spaces where they had died out over the years, had come into bloom. I smiled, thinking that perhaps, they were somehow waiting on dad to decide spring had come. After all, it had been cold the whole previous week.
I called my son and told him, excitedly, “Guess what? Dedah’s tulips are blooming! You’ve got to take your boys down and have their pictures made!” As I hung up the phone, I realized that time had moved on, from pictures of my babies with me, to pictures of my children with Dedah’s grandkids. How I wished he could be there to see them again. I had grieved my parents and my son so much while cleaning up that house. Finally, something had brought a smile to my face.
The sun peeked through the early morning clouds, shining a spear of sunlight directly on the tulips. With tears in my eyes, I looked up and smiled, “Thanks, Dad.” I whispered. It was warm, it was spring, and somehow , he knew.