The first flower I remember was a daisy in Grandpa’s garden. After working as a miner in the mountains of northern Italy and as a soldier in the Italian army, he emigrated from Italy to Philadelphia and married my grandmother, also an immigrant from Italy. By the time I saw the daisy in his garden, he had worked as a sandhog in the subway tunnels of NYC, been a postmaster and run a grocery store in Buehl Minnesota, learned the cheese business in Chicago, raised a family, and moved to small town Wisconsin to take the business risk of starting his own l Italian cheese company. And by the time we nine kids sprang up like weeds in the new house next door, he was retired and letting my Dad take the reins.
Grandpa’s garden seemed huge. There were plum trees, the Italian kind that weren’t round and whose skin that wasn’t as shiny as the plums in the grocery store, but tasted like candy. He had a million strawberries all along the back of the garden by the fence, and lots of vegetables that I didn’t pay attention to at all. And he grew flowers, flowers that seemed to rise up tall just so they could say Buon Giorno to Grandpa.
He would bend gently when he spoke to us kids. Once he offered the enormous sum of five dollars to whichever of us kids could find his missing glasses. Me! Me! I saw them first, pushed back on his head, sitting on the brim of his straw gardening hat. He laughed, the first time I heard an adult laugh at himself.
I called the flowers daisies. Maybe daisy was the only flower name I knew. They danced in the breeze on their narrow stems. Grandpa danced in another way, slow and strong and kindly, a quiet man who had smiles for children and flowers. I never knew the ambitious business man who had inhabited his past. Grandpa and his flowers nurtured one another, and my big round eyes watched the waltz of that mutual cultivation.
Some of the daisies had pink petals and some had purple petals. Sometimes the centers were rich golden brown like a sunflower center. Some had centers of greenish yellow. My favorites were so-called plain, the bright, white daisies with sunny, yellow centers. Happy flowers. Simple, nothing complicated like roses, safe-as-a-grandfather flowers. When I shyly went across the driveway to his garden to watch him poke and weed and hoe, the daisies waved at me. I always wanted to wave back but I never did. It was a peaceful place to go, to escape the cacophony of our house. I didn’t have to explain anything to Grandpa. I didn’t have to explain myself.
From one day to the next, the daisies opened so bravely, all the way. I wondered how they could magically turn their cups into plates. One day, I noticed that it had something to do with the time of day I looked at them. It was the sun that called the daisies open and then coaxed them to close. They were children of the sun, connected to something huge and far far away.
The daisies gave me this first sense of connection. And my grandpa was the one who gave me the daisies. His spirit, and theirs, still lives in a little pocket of my heart. It’s a place where the daisies dance and wave. Where now, I always wave back. ©Susa Silvermarie 2018