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  • CarolJeffers

Red Emperor Tulips

I have always liked tulips. Something about the shape of their petals and the silhouette of the blossom they form. Something about peering inside, getting such a clear view of the pistil and stamen pollen-covered, standing tall and bold. My mother grew them in our gardens when I was growing up, liked to pick them, arrange them in bouquets she placed in the center of the dining room table. The brilliant Red Emperor tulips were my favorite, strong, full, yet graceful in their elegance.

When we bought our house, I couldn’t wait to put in my flower beds. Plant daffodils and hyacinths and, of course, tulips. I could picture them in bloom, first the daffodils and hyacinths, then the tulips, imagined how stunning they would look, bright bursts of color in front of the white picket fence. Let them grow naturally in the garden, not stand in a vase in the house.

I got busy the first fall after we moved in, got the beds ready, started digging the deep holes with my trusty trowel. My neighbor saw me at work and handed me her special bulb digger tool. I didn’t know there was such a thing, and immediately appreciated how efficiently it worked to create perfect holes six to eight inches deep. One by one, I dropped the bulbs in, covered them with the rich earth that would protect them during the winter months, the earth from which their green shoots would push up in the spring. So it went over the years, every so often adding new tulip bulbs in the fall, watching them burst forth, shoots, leaves, and crowns of spectacular petals.

One spring, I was quite busy with my graduate program. There was a scary, panic-inducing statistics course I was required to take. Also a course in curriculum theory, less scary, thank goodness, and more stimulating, but still demanding. I was also a graduate teaching assistant responsible for running a section of the elementary art methods course, which also served as the focus of my doctoral research. This meant that the class assignments were considered as data, so I was forever xeroxing copies of my students’ work. Meanwhile, I was a wife in charge of the house and mom to two little girls, eight and four.

The daffodils and hyacinths had bloomed in front of the white picket fence. And now, the Red Emperor tulips were gorgeous. I could see the display, take it all in from my kitchen window and open back door.

I had a project due, but was glad to take a minute to notice my glorious flower beds even as I worked to clear away the breakfast dishes, get the laundry started, and settle my four year old in the sandbox just inside the fence. I could hear her talking to herself, playing in her imaginary world as I settled into my own world of juggling and balancing. I brought my project into the kitchen where I could keep an eye on everything while I tried to make some progress.

Maybe I lost track of time. Maybe I was deeply engrossed. Maybe I didn’t realize how engrossed my four-year old had become in her own work.

“Mommy, Mommy,” I heard a little voice call through the kitchen door. Janey was so excited, so pleased with herself. “Come see,” she said, and bounced off the porch, skipping to the sandbox. I got up to follow her, found her smiling, so proud.

“Look,” she said, pointing happily.

I looked. I saw. She had picked every one of the newly-blooming Red Emperor tulips and “planted” them in the sandbox.

She had made a new garden for me, and all I could think was “Next spring… hold on til next spring when they will bloom again.”

Maybe I screeched a little. Some. Too much.

My little girl looked so confused, so crestfallen.

“Lunch time,” I said, knowing we both had had enough for one morning. Enough for the season. Time for summer. For the pink peonies to bloom with the ants crawling on them that Janey liked. She could have the peonies and all the ants she wanted. With my blessing.

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