Magnolia

Next-to-the last day of March. Early morning. Still dark. Chilly.

I sit at my laptop, sipping coffee, catching up on my Slice of Life blog comments. The neighborhood rooster across the street crows for all he’s worth.

My husband comes into the kitchen: “Is she up yet?” he whispers.

He means our granddaughter. She spent the night. We stayed up way late watching Frozen II (again). We watched her dancing to the ending credits soundtrack, performing her own astoundingly artistic interpretation, cheeks pink, blue eyes glowing…followed by punchy laughter before the crashing.

“Not yet,” I whisper back. He retreats to his study to work on sermons.

Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen. Favorite lines of a Billy Collins poem come to life:

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her,

barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window
in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor.
She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.

My radiant dawn-child climbs into my lap. I let her read my post about Dennis the dachshund and his toy moose. At five, she reads with exactly the right inflection in exactly the right places, decoding beyootiful without batting an eye.

“That rascally Dennis!” She laughs aloud.

My husband returns, his own face alight at sight of her. “There she is!” he exclaims. “I’ve been waiting for you, Sugar Magnolia.”

He sings the opening line of the Grateful Dead song:

Sugar Magnolia blossom’s blooming

Just so happens that our granddaughter’s middle name is Magnolia. A nod to her Louisiana heritage. A native tree here in North Carolina, too.

I think how, less than two years ago, my husband was dead, until EMS and CPR brought him back. I think of all he’d have missed…

What matters is that we’re here together now, today, in this moment. The Grateful Alive.

Sugar Magnolia, in one of Grandpa’s hats

When we are dressed for the day, she asks: “Can I pick out your earrings? And your necklace?”

“Certainly.”

She picks the magnolia. She and my son gave it to me for my birthday last year.

She hands me the necklace, watches me clasp it, smiles with satisfaction.

She will look in at me with her thin arms extended,
offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light

Just beyond the bedroom door, from the windows in the foyer, birdsong.

The finches.

I waited for them all of March, in vain. Then, here at the very end, within the space of these last twenty-four hours, a nearly-complete nest rests on my front door wreath. More on this tomorrow, when I write with the Spiritual Journey gathering on the first Thursday in April…for now all that needs to be said is that the finches always come to my door, every year except this last one. They vanished without warning, without a trace, during COVID-19. Now they’re back, making their home in the wreath.

The magnolia wreath.

Front door wreath and nest-in-progress

Magnolias, magnolias, everywhere…

They are tougher than they look. The oldest flowering plants on Earth. A symbol of love, longevity, perseverance, endurance.

It’s that word that captures me: Endurance.

It is the end of March.

We’ve endured the COVID pandemic for a whole year.

We’ve endured the reinvention of life as we knew it, school as we knew it, teaching as we knew it.

My family has endured distance, isolation, individual private battles…and we all get our second round of vaccinations over these next two days.

My husband has endured. He is alive.

My granddaughter has endured. She is the light of our days.

The finches have endured. They have returned to resume nesting.

This is my last post for the Slice of Life Story Challenge; for thirty-one consecutive days, I’ve endured. My writing has endured.

I wrote a lot of memoir in the Challenge, for memories endure. I wrote of a walled garden and roots and the need to get out of the comfort zone; I did that with some of my writing. I think now of my magnolia metaphor and look back at its deep roots in my childhood. Southern heritage. My grandmothers, steel magnolias (although they wouldn’t have thought it of themselves). Women who endured wars, deprivation, unspeakable losses. The stand over the landscape of my life like the old magnolia trees near their homes, their churches. They were the encompassing, protective shadows against the burning sun and sweltering heat, the solid coolness of the earth under my feet, where lie the curious, fuzzy seedpods of my existence, my remembering, my gratitude, my faith. From these branches waft the eternal fragrance of sacrificial love and forgiveness; nothing on God’s Earth smells as sweet.

One final curious image—it persists, so I have to figure out if and how it will fit here: When I was very small, I spent a lot of time with Grandma, Daddy’s mother. She and Granddaddy lived nearby in city apartments until he retired and they moved back home to the country when I was six. In this scene, I am around four, I think:

I am waiting in the hall for Grandma. She’s turning the lights out; we are getting ready to go. She calls my name from another room. I call back: “I am here.” My voice keeps bouncing, off the walls, off the stairs going down, down, down, into the darkness; we have to go through it before we can get to the door and the sidewalks and the sunlight outside.

“Grandma!” I cry. More bouncing voice, hollow, strange.

She’s there in an instant. “What’s the matter?”

“What is that sound?”

Oh, honey, that’s just your echo.”

She calls out, “Hello”…her voice bounces, just like mine.

“Echoooo…” I call. Echooo-ooo-ooo, says the shadow of my voice, rolling down the stairwell.

And I am no longer scared, because now I know.

What does this have to do with magnolias?

Only that we are on our way to the park, where she would offer me bread to feed the ducks, which would come to eat from my hands, from my little extended arms…and where the magnolias still grow in abundance. The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.

Grandma’s homeplace was named for the dawn, by the way. She’s literally Aurora’s child.

But tomorrow dawn will come the way I picture her

“Stand right there, honey. Let me get your picture by that tree,” I tell my granddaughter, on our first trip to the park.

It’s a different park. A different tree.

But still, and always, a magnolia.

Our Sugar Magnolia, by “her” tree.

*******

With abiding gratitude to the community at Two Writing Teachers during the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, which concludes today. It was a joy to write alongside you every day in the month of March. Thank you for every cup of light you offered; I will savor the echo of your voices for many days to come.

46 thoughts on “Magnolia

  1. This sentence is pure love: “Shortly, though, she here she comes, a gift of the dawn, Aurora’s child, barefoot in a blue flannel gown, cloaked in long, disheveled hair, ethereal smile of joy illuminating the semi-dark kitchen.”
    Kevin

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    • I’ve loved the magnolia all of my adult life – I even decorate my Christmas tree with them – but never realized that they represent endurance. Part of the writing fun is finding these connective threads and meanings – in this case, everything when was suddenly coming up magnolias! I so appreciate your thoughts, Christine. I look forward to seeing you on Tuesdays 🙂

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  2. This is stunningly breathtaking, Fran! Your granddaughter is beautiful. (I’m a preacher’s kid, by the way….) I love how you wove in lyrics and quotes. So glad you are all here – wow, happy your husband was blessed with a booster shot of life! Cheers! Thanks for inspiring us all this month. Watch ethicalela on the 6th or 7th of April when our LISTEN prompt is scheduled. Can’t wait for another month of writing. This is the air we breathe!

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    • My boys would enjoy chatting with you about the life of a PK, I am sure-!! Your words mean so much to me, Kim. I love your work and your spirit – kindred all the way. I am excited about Ethical ELA and the Listen post – I’ll be there! I am grateful for that as well. And yes – writing IS the air we breathe. ❤

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  3. What a privilege and joy it is to read your words, Fran. What significance in your granddaughter’s name, Aurora Magnolia. And these words are ones to treasure and share with our family history writing group: “The memory is a cup of light I carry with me, just as the echo of her voice remains, just as I find myself echoing her, for we are always echoes of the ones we love most. As blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.”
    Thanks for inspiring me this month and bringing me along to enjoy remembered light and beloved voices.

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    • Thank you, dear Ramona. Those lines of Collins’ sprang to life, looking at my newly-risen granddaughter… they took on a new imagery. She seemed the embodiment of dawn and newness. Her first name isn’t Aurora, though, and I am sorry if I misled – it’s actually Scout, which I didn’t reference (another story in itself). Magnolia is her actual middle name and my husband has taken to calling her ‘Sugar Magnolia.’ I’d be honored for you to share those lines with your family writing group, and please know how grateful I am for you and the gift of your words – always!

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  4. This, as usual, is beautiful and deep. I have really enjoyed reading your writing this month. Today’s was a piece that I’ll have to return to, and the sun has risen and my dog needs his walk. I love the word aurora, and your granddaughter certainly has those qualities from the Billy C. poem. In college I loved (and struggled to write about) a poem by Wallace Stevens called “The Auroras of Autumn.” If you haven’t read it, and you’ve got some time, it’s worth a read. Thank you for reminding me of magnolias. My parents had one in front of their house…and I love the Grateful Dead reference…and the Grateful Alive transformation. Thank you also for the many encouraging comments this month.

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    • I have so appreciated your words and wit this month as well; it’s all been such a great pleasure. Your Swedish grandmother is now a permanent image in my mind, as is Farley! Evidence that stories really matter – as does the sharing of them. There’s a vital universality to it all. Love Stevens, don’t know this poem, am off to look it up and to make my way over to Five Hundred a Day – with much gratitude. Here’s to all the writing to come!

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  5. You are always good at tying your posts up at the end, but this one struck me as perfectly circular…maybe because the image of the wreath stayed with me. There is life, and life’s cycles, and life’s joys and sorrows in this post–but more joy, to be sure, this season of spring and renewal influencing your words, I think. We have some magnolias in our neighborhood, but now I will need to notice if they’ve made it through our Snowpocalyse this past winter–so many anchors of landscaping did not, in neighbors’ yards. Thanks for sharing yet another SOLSC, Fran…and now I’m interested in the spiritual writing group you’re in. Is it open to new readers and writers?

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    • Chris, you have such keen insight – it’s an amazing gift. This post FEELS circular to me, although I really didn’t plan or envision it to be. I struggled with the echo memory especially, felt it really should be its own separate thing – but it would not rest. I am feeling happier about leaving it in and how it ties to the whole. I hope your neighborhood magnolias have survived.Never really knew before that they represent endurance. I have so enjoyed sharing daily stories with you, Chris – you’re an inspiration in so many ways. I will send you my email address by DM on Twitter so we can stay in touch better, plus for more info on the Spiritual Journey group!

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  6. “For we are always echoes of the ones we love most.” This line stopped me. It is a line I will keep. One of my regrets this month was I did not have the chance to read your posts each day- I plan to go back to read because your writing brings me joy, always. This was an exquisite post. We are all blessed to read your words.

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    • Dear Kathleen – you always lighten my day with your words! I absolutely understand how there aren’t enough hours in the day to read all and write all that we desire. I didn’t even do the Welcome Wagon this year and STILL had trouble keeping up! I branched out a little more with my writing during this Challenge, with some topics I usually prefer to let lie under layers of comfort. I tried writing around a letter a day for the first 26 days and discovered that this opened some interesting doors. I have to thank you and all the co-hosts of TWT for manning this blog and this challenge – it has meant the world to me, you cannot even know. Just – thank you! ❤

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  7. I love how you have summarised so many of your posts and references to memories that came up in slices here, so completely and neatly. I love that the finches have finally come to your wreath and your memories of your grandma’s, I love that Billy Collin’s poem about the dawn and how despite all the bad things that happened or almost happened, you are now all here and alive!
    And magnolias, I adore magnolias and here in Australia. magnolias do flower at Christmas time which is a special bonus. They are simply majestic as a flower in appearance and fragrance, thanks for writing about them so eloquently!

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    • I briefly considered trying to work in all my alphabetical title words from the month in this post, as a grand finale – and wisely decided against it, as the post would have become a many-headed monster! “Xenophobia” and “Yahtzee” just don’t lend themselves to the easiest integration… but many of my title words and ideas are here. I so appreciate your seeing and sensing them. Your words have been a true joy and a gift throughout this challenge. I love learning from you and am delighted to know there are magnolias in Australia…how magical, that they bloom at Christmastime. In fact – I decorate my tree with them every year. Thank you for sharing this journey with me!

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  8. Your slices were always on my list to read. Your gifts are the honesty of your words; the vividness of your images; the tightness of your construction; and your trust in the reader. Thank you for all you have shared. And also, thank you for the precision of your comments. I am awed by you.

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    • Diane, I have so enjoyed sharing stories with you this month. I feel I could chat writing and poetry with you all day and never tire of it. These words, your observations about my writing – they mean a tremendous lot. I am grateful for you! Know that you remain in my thoughts beyond this SOLSC challenge – and that YOU are a gift.

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  9. Such a beautiful post about so many things, including your precious granddaughter… I have enjoyed reading all of your thoughts this month. Many really made me stop to think. Thank you for sharing your magnolia! We don’t have them here!

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  10. How do you do this, Fran? How, with words intertwining present with past, you bring tears to my eyes? The beauty of your lines from the rooster to the finches, you leave us with the idea of endurance through the symbol of magnolias. The depth and craft of your post is stunning. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  11. I loved reading about your sweet Sugar Magnolia who is staying with you. She sounds like she lights up your world, which feels especially important given the year we’ve all endured.

    Enjoy these precious moments with her. And good luck with your second vaccination, Fran.

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    • Many thanks, Stacey – she does light up our world over here! We have learned much about stopping just to savor… I am managing all right after the vaccination. Just a little sleepy. I cannot thank you enough, Stacey, you and all at TWT, for the incredibly meaningful gift of a story-writing sharing-place. The Challenge is an experience of unparalleled power…when so many of the world’s challenges would render us powerless.

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  12. Your post picked me up and took me gently, from one spot of love to the next. The way you weave experiences, memory, and poetry is magical.

    Perhaps the echoing voice in the hallways of your grandmother’s home is about hearing your voice as a willowy child that grew to become the sturdy support for the next. Like magnolias.
    “…blood circulates in our veins, so do remembered light and beloved voices, long past shadows and silence. These are things that endure.”

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  13. Magnolias are a beautiful tree. My high school was surrounded by a few because we were Magnolia High School. Every year we always planned for Prom to happen during late April/early May to ensure that we could get photos in our dresses in front of these beautiful trees. That final picture of your granddaughter standing in front of “her” tree reminds me of Mam & our peonies.

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    • Magnolia High School – how lovely. I can imagine how beautiful the photos were, in front of those trees. That comparison to Mam and your peonies… for me, it paints a picture of the circle of life, going on and on, unbroken.

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  14. Day after day I read your posts, catch my breath and think: Beautiful! Too often this month I have missed your blog or, worse, read without responding in writing. You always speak to my heart, Fran. Thank you for sharing the beauty you find in the world. Thank you.

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    • Thank you, Amanda. Your words mean much to me. I think that’s the hardest part of this Challenge, having time enough to read and comment on all the posts we want to – it can seriously eat up time in our already hectic days! I’m always struck by the warmth, wit, and energy with which you write. Even when you write of challenging things, your sunny spirit and generous heart come through. Thank you for this lovely gift of a response and I will look for you on Tuesdays!

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  15. Forgive me for two things, Fran: 1) for taking so long to think of a response to this beautiful post, and 2) the fact that I’m going to get a bit mathematical on you.

    Infinity is a strange thing. We think of it as a vast expanse, a space between things beyond imagination. And here’s the thing. Between every two numbers is an infinite number of numbers. And even if we take two infinitesimally close numbers, we can still find infinite numbers between then – and so on, and so on. (Hold on, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.)

    And that is part of the magic of this post. You take this idea – the magnolia – and you expand it into a new layer – proof that no matter the subject, we humans can always dig deeper. And deeper from there. And deeper from there.

    Thanks for another beautiful post – and for being you.

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    • Dear Lainie: No apologies needed. This has to rank among the most fascinating things I’ve ever read, let alone as a response to a post! I am reminded of learning that the universe is made of numbers and that pi is in the rainbow… the recurrence of the magnolia here is mathematical…now I am thinking on how there’s even a mathematical quality to one’s memories. See how you have expanded my thinking! Certainly my awareness. You are a wonder, Lainie – you and awe walk hand-in-hand. Thank you for this.

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      • Thank you! I’m thinking this might be the subject of a future blog post, but it’s still a little, shall we say…rough around the edges?

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      • I totally get it. Some things have to sit for some time, before they form a sustainable shape. It can be like trying to nail down Jello… I think I will have to pursue that this new thinking on mathematical components of memory…

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