A Thorn Among Roses

In 1993, as my wife and I were renting an ant-plagued home in Marion Oaks, my mother called and said she was taking me shopping.

Two things here: (1.) My mother detested shopping. (2.) Shopping with her as a kid was traumatic. We usually returned home with Toughskins jeans (made with polyester and sandpaper) and other garments that prompted classmates to beat me up.

But that shopping trip in 1993 was different. Tired of looking at our dirt and ant mounds, Mom decided it was time for this adult-ish newlywed to have a big-boy yard.

So, we went to a nursery (turns out, some have flowers instead of babies) and loaded up with colorful plants—marigolds, azaleas, orange things, red things—and cow poop.

I planted the heck out of those flowers. They looked much better than dirt, and my robust agricultural feats impressed my wife.

But, weeks later, I became a homicidal menace. A plant killer. A dangerous village idiot whose ignorance turned tolerant plants into acrid oatmeal.

The struggle continues to this day. Plant-savvy family members, for example, give me succulents. These are domestic cacti, of sorts, that are impossible to kill—unless they fall under Schlenker’s Black Thumb of Horrors.

When those relatives visit, I scramble to buy new plants to replace the ones they gave me. “Oh look,” they’ll say. “That succulent we gave you a year ago has grown into a mum with a price tag.”

But there is one notable exception to my killing spree: roses.

I say “notable” because roses are very hard to grow in Florida’s humid, frying-pan climate. They demand attention. They demand leaf-by-leaf, petal-by-petal care.

In the ‘90s, I was determined to learn. To be sure, there were casualties. Still, I remained vigilant, and by the time our first daughter was born, our house was filled with fresh roses.

I clearly remember working on the roses while little Katie played nearby. There is a distinct magic to those memories—the giggles, the smells, the popsicle breaks, the first bloom of spring.

Fast forward 20 years. I remain the luckiest guy in the world. One sweet daughter turned into two sweet daughters. My high-school crush and I have been married for nearly 30 years. We have a corgi and two rascally cats.

And amid a pandemic with random targets, I think about my luck often. It is, indeed, blind luck.

So, one day early into the pandemic, I decided to mark the moment. It had been 18 years since I grew roses. I would do it again.

I needed to evoke some magic memories.

In 2021, our sweet little girls are sweet young women. Our corgi is creaky but still at our feet. And our pandemic roses are blooming.

I am a lucky father and husband. I also am a rosarian whose path to the rose garden is littered with the corpses of succulents gifted to me by family.

I must remember to clear the cemetery before they visit again.

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