Pippa Possible and Cathy Stevens Pratt

“Flowers Abstract”
Cathy Stevens Pratt

Inspiration piece

Mom’s Bouquet
by Pippa Possible


The sun is already warm and bright by eleven in the morning, and the blue of the sky seems more saturated than I am used to. I am struck by how luminous the light quality is, in my home town.

The assembled guests have brought food and folding chairs, which play a slow-moving game of follow the shade, throughout the afternoon. I do not sit, but instead spend the hours floating a few inches above the earth, as I progress through the concerned faces offering hugs.

N. with her wide smile and tender eyes, embraces me and transfers to me a Mason jar, containing a bouquet arranged with flowers, that she picked this morning in her garden.

Anyone who knows Mom well will see that this arrangement has been picked with her in mind. The palette of the flowers and foliage is rich, deep, dark burgundy and bright crimson, with variations of green and accents of chartreuse. The flowers have been arranged with great care to appear effortlessly elegant, a bit wild and frayed at the edges, with fronds that remind me of her hair.

Mom would have appreciated this gesture from N. and would have taken time to contemplate the bouquet, using the majority of her senses. She would have made a sensory note of the aromas, likely deeply inhaling the bouquet, followed by a tremendous, whole-body sneeze. It smells more green than floral.

She would have caressed the blossoms, noticing that many share a tactile quality with various textiles. The petals of some flowers glint in the sun, and are light and soft like silk charmeuse, fluttering in the breeze. Other flowers are heavy, fuzzy baubles, like velvety chenille. Tickling wisps of foliage peek out, resemble delicate hand-tatted lace work.

She would have analyzed the choices made, and asked N. about any species with which she was unfamiliar, pulling a notebook and pen out of her purse to write down the names, for future reference. Mom took lots of notes and made numerous lists. Sorting through her belongings, we are finding many incomprehensible notes, and scribbles, lacking in context, which is in itself both frustrating and charming. Mom would have loved her bouquet.

I am having a difficult time adjusting to Mom in the past tense. My use of “would have” feels incomprehensible and absurd, and it rings untrue. Partly because her death was so unexpected and sudden, and partly because Mom permeates so much of my existence. Her influence is in my wardrobe and belongings, my cooking, my gardening, my tastes. She seems to occasionally take up space in my body, inhabiting my facial expressions and hand gestures.

The idea of filling in for Mom, as she exists now, as a person who once was, and maintaining an integral idea of her, while she is no longer in a position to be in charge of deciding what she likes; the idea that we are somehow supposed to take up adequate authorship of her tastes, and desires, seems absurd. We are charged with laboring the incompatible, somehow simultaneously preserving and embellishing the narrative script of Mom, as time passes. The process of “keeping her memory alive” is fraught with a deep sense of inadequacy. How can we possibly sustain a comprehensive idea of her, as she was, while also declaring that she would love a bouquet made posthumously in her honor? It is so strange, when I really think about it. And yet, I know that Mom would have loved her bouquet. I suppose through life we hope to impart enough about ourselves, to our loved ones, so that they can presume to know. People know variations of Mom.

I do not belong in this narrative. Mom and I continue to belong in and exist in the timeline that we were in the day before she died, when we had a standing date for lunch. It feels like I woke up one morning having jumped to another dimension. Which, to be frank, is what happened. I awoke to a series of alerts on my phone, from my sister. Mom had suddenly fallen over in the kitchen, and in that moment, our entire world was transformed.

At the wake, I float through the concerned faces offering hugs, and seem to be continually clutching this Mason jar with this bouquet for Mom, who is no longer with us. Someone (who? when?) rearranges the table of photographs and memorabilia and Mom’s buttons, to make room for the bouquet, managing to disengage the jar from my grasp, as I distractedly talk with another mourner.

I contemplate Mom’s belongings – buttons and single earrings who years ago lost their mate, vintage lace and tablecloths, notebooks with lists. Each one is a variation of Mom. I ponder physical objects belonging to, and even more strangely, being given to, one who no longer inhabits physical form. Flowers are a fitting gift for a dead person, as they also have a life trajectory, with an inescapable transition to dust. This bouquet is also a gift to us, the living, the ones who know Mom and recognize variations of her in each selected stem.

It is suggested by someone that we preserve the bouquet, in some way. To preserve is to halt or delay the process of inevitable transition to dust. We decide to press them. To preserve these flowers in such a way as to suspend them, pause them, and their vibrant colors, in time. To pause life and flatten time, with the exertion of tension on mass.

A few days pass, and in my haze the night before flying back home, I find a notebook in which to inadequately begin the process of pressing Mom’s bouquet. I snip the flowers from their stems, and place each between individual pages. I will have to ask N. at some point soon (my sister and I seem to be collecting “at some point soons” these days), to tell me the names of each plant, so that I can keep note.

Halfway through the process, the notebook is bulging, and escapees are littering the bedspread and floor. I somehow manage to finish and wrap it up, en masse, with ribbon, which, as I am on a blow-up mattress in the home of my achingly awkward youth, brings to mind the act of squeezing my belly into tight jeans before school.

I ask Dad if he would please stack a few large heavy books on top of the bulging book of flowers, and send it back to me, when they have adequately dried and flattened a bit.

I have a flower press at home. Mom gave it to me as a gift, when I was a child. It has an illustration of a borage plant, on the front, and mustard yellow sheets of paper. The press is now thirty years old. I am thirty-eight years old. The flowers are a few days old. Mom was sixty-nine years old up until a few days ago. When she turned sixty-four years old, we were driving around and she was humming the Beatles song, and I turned to her and said “I will always still need you, Mom.” and as sappy and orchestrated as that moment felt, it was also tender, and necessary and quite meaningful. And it remains true.

Tomorrow morning I will stuff my clothes back into my suitcase, and fly back home. When the flowers arrive, I will do my best to effectively press them, using the appropriate equipment. Mom was always best at knowing what would be needed, at times like these.


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