Last Peonies

It’s been a lousy spring. I loved the harsh cold and daily snow of the the winter, even while everyone else was complaining. But this spring, even by Wisconsin standards, has been just plain bad: cold, rainy, and miserable, June is nearly gone, and we haven’t yet felt the full bloom of summer. It’s oppressive, and it feels like a year lost from one’s life.

I adore peonies. I recall one summer day, coming into the kitchen of my much-beloved German voice coach to find a full vase of deep red peonies. They took my breath away with their beauty. Noticing my reaction, my coach said to me, “They are like Wagner, aren’t they?”

That was a long time ago, in another lifetime. My peonies, which are abundant and in many colors, are the joy of my every June. I adore their perfume, and their variety, and I pick them extravagantly to fill the house. But this year I have been distracted and busy, and I missed almost all their bloom. This evening, after my early-rising husband had gone to bed, the dogs and I went out into the summer twilight–mercifully dry–and picked the last remaining blossoms. I tried not to notice the petals on the ground, wasted by the rain, and the browning and withered blooms that still remained on the stems. I found a few lovely and fully blossoming flowers, and I cut them all to bring into the house. Despite there being so few, their scent fills the room.

Normally, I am jealous of my flowers, and I find it difficult to part with them. But this time I know that my peonies will sleep only tonight in my house. Tomorrow I will bring them to my mother’s bedside for her to savor their scent and the voluptuousness of their color. However much I try to pretend otherwise, I know she will not be here when they bloom again. I dread to think of seeing peonies for the last time. I hope she doesn’t know.