For the month of December I am selling my book, The Roses at the End of the Road for $12 with no shipping costs. All ordering information is here. The book is filled with characters and our adventures here at the end of the road. To give you a taste, the Rachel’s Rose chapter follows below.
There is a rose in my garden named Rachel.
One summer Rachel Burrington Sumner, one of Heath’s grand dames, who knew of my interest in old roses invited me to come to her house and dig up two of the roses growing there. She didn’t know their names but thought I would love them as she did.
As I arrived I passed her two adult grandsons who were dashing off to a wedding leaving Rachel and me in the big old farmhouse that had seen so much of life, so many weddings and births – and grieving, too. She gave me a tour of the farmhouse that she had come to as a bride. She explained all the work that her husband had done over the years before he died in 1988, and proudly pointed out the photographs of her children and grandchildren.
Then she took me outside to show me the roses which were no longer in bloom because it was so late in the season. Armed with my tough leather rose gloves and a shovel I set to work while Rachel returned to her chair in the kitchen.
It took me a while to dig up those roses. They were thorny and their roots went as deep and wide into the Heath soil as Rachel’s did.
The rose growing in the front yard had spread into a large thicket and proved its indomitable hardiness. Rachel said during the excavation for a garage and workshop it had been buried under about three feet of soil. Rachel assumed the rose was lost forever, but in time it once again reached for the sun to spread and bloom.
I didn’t know Rachel well. I didn’t know her when she was a strong young woman taking her place in the community, working on the farm, raising a family and working down at the high school office. When I met her she was already becoming frail, yet still involved in the community. Whenever I had to arrange to use the church Rachel was the one I had to speak to.
Usually we only met at the Heath Fair. She’d ask about my garden and tell me about her pleasure in the season, in the new minister, in the latest town event.
After thanking Rachel I went home and planted both roses carefully. The summer and fall were very dry and even though I kept them watered as well as I could the roses took a beating. By the time winter was in sight I wondered whether those roses would survive.
Early in the spring I went out into my pasture collecting ‘meadow muffins’ and put the manure around Rachel’s roses to they would get a good start on the season. Soon I could see there was new growth. They took hold.
It strikes me that the roses Rachel gave me are very like her – beautiful and strong. They have endured crushing blows and bloomed again. They’ll flower and perfume the air no matter what, but they’ll give pleasure to the people around them, as long as those people stop long enough, and are wise enough to notice.
My rose garden started with antique roses, often named after nobility, the Queen of Denmark, the Comtesse de Murinais and the Duchesse d’Angouleme.
I’ve been fortunate to have friends give me roses as a token of friendship. Most of these were unnamed so I tend to think of them in terms of the giver. Alli’s Pink, Susan’s Rose all grow in a row. Mrs. Herzig jumped the row and now grows by the roadside.
I think of these roses as my Farm Girls, but most of us women know that whether we are royalty or farm girls, we’d better be sturdy, tenacious and determined as we face the years of summer heat and winter storms or there will be nothing left of us to name a rose after.
I watched the new growth develop on Rachel’s rose and hoped it would come along fast enough so that I could invite Rachel to see how well it had settled in and how happily it was blooming.
Rachel passed away before I had that opportunity, but I didn’t admire the roses alone. Our youngest daughter, Kate, was married in the garden at the height of rose season. Family and friends joined us for this joyous celebration. We admired the bride and groom – and looked to the rose named Rachel for inspiration as they began their new life.
When it came time to build the Cottage Ornee we carefully sited it to nestle under the branches of the old apple tree at the edge of the lawn. We moved the four large boulders, salvaged from the barn fire, into position to hold the four main cottage supports. One of those boulders need to be on the spot where we had planted Rachel’s Rose.
There was no choice. We dug up Rachel’s Rose and transplanted it to the top of the Rose Walk next to a low stone wall that grew out of what was left of the barn foundation.
Because I still wanted a rose in that spot when the Cottage was finished we planted the double pink alba Celestial next to the boulder. It thrived, and continues to bloom heavily every year. But after a couple of years I noticed deeper pink roses among the more delicate Celestial blossoms. It was clear that we must have left a bit of Rachel’s root in the soil when we moved her. Once again, as it had in Rachel Sumner’s garden, this rose persevered until it reached through all obstacles to reach for and bloom in the sun once again.
Just to let you know – Other chapters include Kate’s Wedding, The Cottage Ornee, St. Fiacre Was Here, Lightning Strikes! – and others.