Today would have been my mother’s seventieth birthday. Were she alive today, I would have sent her a bouquet of pale pink roses. She once told me that she thought the two most perfect things in the world were cats and roses. Since she already had a beloved feline in her life, I tried to fill her life with roses as much as possible.
Now, of course, roses always make me think of her, and they have come to serve as something of a metaphor for my mother. They are beautiful and sweet-smelling. They are delicate, but somehow powerful. Strong. Mostly, they don’t last nearly as long as they should.
Today, in honor of my mother and the roses I would have bought her, I’m revisiting the work of Jean Robie, nineteenth-century Belgian still life painter. His Bouquet of Roses captures something of what I think my mother loved about roses as well as something of what was so remarkable about her. You can almost feel the softness of the petals and smell the freshness of their alluring scent. I especially love the mystery of this arrangement. You cannot see what contains these roses, though they’ve certainly been gathered by someone. They almost seem to be growing–in a perfect bouquet–out of the log resting on top of the bright green grass. I think my mother had a touch of that divine mystery in her as well. Something special emanated from her, its source never entirely apparent to us mere mortals.
Like the roses in this painting, my mother’s memory is preserved for me, impossibly perfect, divinely lit, lovely. My mom was a lovely rose blossom, making the world around her smell sweeter. And, I know that (to quote the Dana Gioia poem she requested we read at her funeral) there is “behind the wall a garden still in blossom.”