Daisy, Violet, and Gladiola are flowers, but they’re also people who happen to have charming floral names popular in England when they were born. These three blossoms are known among family and friends as the Three Flowers. Perennials who are getting past their prime, first bloom long gone, but they remain vital, engaged, and reasonably healthy for their 96, 93, and 88 years.
Violet is my mother-in-law, whose 93rd birthday we celebrated recently in England, where she lives. Her mind is tip-top, her legs give her a bit of trouble, and she walks with a cane, but she never complains. Except about her oldest son, my husband’s older brother. She reports that he’s forgetting things and repeating himself and she thinks he’s starting to lose it at 70.
A knitter like Madame Defarge, she knits tea cozies and doll outfits to raffle for orphanages and raise money for British troops in Afghanistan. The local paper lauds her efforts at giving back to the community. Violet leads a very full life and looks forward to canal boat trips, shopping expeditions, and local theater productions. We just got our first e-mail from her to inform us that she is now online. She cooks herself a hot meal at midday. A bit of a demon on the senior scooter that we bought for her, she does her shopping in the neighborhood and whizzes around like a Hells Angel granny. On a shopping expedition to IKEA to buy things for her flat, which she is redecorating, she careened around the aisles waving her list like a flag. We trotted meekly behind trying to keep up.
She lives in her own little flat in a senior citizens development with her own living room, bedroom, kitchen, and bath. Most mornings at 11 she has coffee in the lounge with the other seniors.
The commodious lounge is the hub of gossip, parties, and dinners with residents and guests alike. Violet helps organize Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve parties. They had a special tea party with champagne, sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam and wore fancy hats to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate. The other residents call Violet the Queen Mum, and a special wingback chair is reserved for her use. No one else dares to sit in it. She gets the royal treatment being the next-to-oldest person in the compound. A glittery tiara she wears occasionally accents her regal demeanor. She has perfected the Queen Elizabeth wave, and took a tour of the public rooms at Buckingham Palace, where in the gift shop she bought me two white tea towels with the royal crest embroidered in gold thread.
Gladiola, or Glad, as she is called, is my sister-in-law’s mother. She was a talented seamstress who for years worked in a factory sewing dresses. The youngest flower, she is gossip central and takes pride in breaking news before anyone else. She doesn’t always get the facts straight but is a fountain of information nonetheless. Glad is also the designated tea and coffee maker to guests and residents alike.
“Would you like a nice cup of tea? How about a coffee?” British biscuits, cookies in America, are passed around, including my favorite, Scottish shortbread.
Daisy, my husband’s aunt, used to live in the flat next door to Violet but now resides in a nursing home since she needs more care. My husband, Violet, Glad, and I went to visit Daisy. When we walked into the room, Daisy was slumped in a wheelchair but rapidly came to life when my husband said, “Aunty Daisy, it’s me, Mick.”
Daisy answered, “Mickey from America,” remembering that he lives in the States.
We had a good visit talking about the old days and what a terrific cook Daisy was, especially her peach and apple pies. Daisy asked, “Where is Charlie?” — her dead husband — and “Where is Peter?” — her son killed years ago in a car accident. When asked how the food was, she said, “Palatable,” not a bad Scrabble word. As we said our farewells, Daisy took my husband’s face in her arthritic hands, stroked his beard with crooked fingers, and said, “I always loved you, Mickey. But get rid of that beard.” And she laughed.
My mother-in-law, in her own wheelchair, faced the opposite direction — dueling wheelchairs; one heading toward death, the other away from it. The opposing chairs’ arms touched but created a barrier for the women. Violet managed to lean over and plant a kiss, maybe for the last time, on Daisy’s withered cheek.
“Love you, Dais.”
“Love you too, Vi.”
Two flowers having lived through many seasons together, now wilting and preparing to return to the soil that had nourished them. I started to cry but turned away so Daisy couldn’t see my tears.
Joanne Pateman is a regular contributor of “Guestwords.” She lives in Southampton.