It was March. I remember because my truck was covered in yellow powder. And if you don’t know the yellow powder I speak of, you might be from Ohio.
A lot of people who move to the South from other places think our biggest problems are humidity, mosquitoes, or evangelical fundamentalists. But those are nothing.
We have dehumidifiers for humidity, citronella for bugs, and fundamentalists won’t bother you if you play dead or talk about beer.
No, one of our biggest pests in these parts is the Satanic-dust that kills innocent woodland creatures and ushers in Armageddon.
Long ago, I tried to start a landscaping company. It was a bad idea and a colossal failure. I bought a utility trailer and some equipment. And when pollen season hit, I put a few fliers in mailboxes.
“FIRST LAWN-CUTTING IS FREE!!!!” I advertised, and I used four exclamation points.
One of my first customers was an old man. He hired me to re-sod his entire front yard during the height of pollen season. I paid my friend Adam to help me.
Adam and I worked like rented mules. We replaced almost half an acre of centipede grass. Our noses were running, our eyes burning.
“This pollen’s killing me,” I said to Adam.
“Who said that?” Adam answered. “My eyes are too swollen to see anything.”
While we worked, an old woman came walking out of the house. She wore a nightgown, her hair was white and messy. She wandered through the yard like she were in a daze, letting the sun hit her face. She smiled. She sneezed.
“Oh, Carl!” she shouted. “There are boys out here!”
She sneezed again.
“Boys!” she said. “Two boys!”
I was afraid this woman was going to boil us in a kettle with toe of a frog and eye of newt.
Finally, the woman announced that she wanted to have a tea party. She clapped her hands together and hollered, “A tea party!”
I almost ran for the truck.
The old man made little sandwiches for everyone. He placed fine China on a yellow-dusted patio table. We sipped from little teacups and talked about the weather. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a woman eat so many Zapp’s dill-pickle-flavored potato chips and live to tell about it.
When we finished, the old woman barked to her husband, “Carl, get my easel.”
The man went to the other room and gathered oil painting supplies. He set up a makeshift studio in the backyard for his wife. A chair sat opposite of the easel. I was instructed to sit.
“Me?” I said.
“You,” the woman said.
The woman painted, and when she held her brushes, she became fifty years younger. She kept reminding me to hold completely still and suppress my sneezes.
She made grand sweeping motions on the canvas. She stared at me with brilliant eyes.
Behind her, I could see the old man was crying.
After what seemed like an hour, she finished my portrait. She displayed it to us. It was incredible. This woman was not just a painter, she was a master.
The old man took the canvas into his careful hands. He led us to a room at the end of a long hallway. Inside were paintings of all kinds. Colorful flowers, figure studies, still-lifes, and portraits.
“Thank you for posing,” the old man said. “You don’t understand, my wife hasn’t painted in fifteen years. Most days she can’t even remember my name.”
He went on to say that his wife started taking art lessons long ago when she turned forty. She turned out to be a natural, and nobody would’ve ever guessed it.
Soon, all her friends were visiting the house to pose. The woman painted furiously through her forties, fifties, and sixties.
Then Alzheimer’s. It came hard. One day, they closed the doors to her studio forever. Overnight, the man transformed from husband into caregiver. And there is a special place in heaven for caregivers.
I don’t remember much more about that day except that my friend and I laid sod after dark by the glow of outdoor lights.
I also remember that the old man paid us too much for our work. Before we left, we saw the man and his wife through their lit-up windows. The man was helping her into bed, but she was fighting him. He was patient.
I will never forget that.
Yesterday, I drove through a familiar neighborhood and I saw that house. A young couple lives there now. There were children playing on lush green grass. A young man was working in the yard.
I asked the man if he knew the people who lived there before him.
“Yeah,” said the man. “Those were my grandparents, did you know them?”
No, I didn’t. But once, a long time ago, I was fortunate enough to have tea with two beautiful people who loved each other very much.
God bless those touched by Alzheimer’s.
Watch out for pollen
Johnny Parker - March 20, 2019 9:23 am
Thank you Sean for reminding us that March Madness isn’t about basketball. It’s about that darn yellow dust, pine tree pollen. You scored a game winning three pointer today.
Kelly - March 20, 2019 9:50 am
Pollen – pine and oak are my nemesis! My neighborhood is covered in both types of trees. As I read your story this morning, it was between fits of sneezing and coughing due to my annual allergy turned to sinus infection! Wouldn’t be Spring in Florida without it!
Camille - March 20, 2019 10:12 am
I spent all of my March’s in SE Alabama covered in yellow. I live in Tennessee now in a forest of hardwood with nary a pine in sight andI love it!
Elizabeth Edens - March 20, 2019 10:22 am
Tears again, and not from the pollen. Sean, you hit all the emotions. Bless you and your typewriter.
Jim Lyle - March 20, 2019 10:47 am
My wife has Alzheimers, Thank You!!
Cathi - March 20, 2019 10:51 am
Sean, pine pollen is truly awful this year too but the pine blooms that produce it are so beautiful, looking like mini crosses. You made me well up & it had nothing to do with pollen. God bess you, he uses you to bless me every single day!
Penn Wells - March 20, 2019 11:25 am
But…but…what happened to the painting???
Sandi in FL. - March 20, 2019 2:09 pm
I’m wondering the same thing, Penn!
Marcia Heins - February 4, 2021 5:10 am
I was wondering about that as well.
Jan - March 20, 2019 12:18 pm
Thank you, Sean! Only you can start a story with pollen and end with a beautiful lesson about life and love!
Karen - March 20, 2019 12:27 pm
Oh, this is a beautiful story …. a story that could be the basis for an entire book. Thank you, Sean
Ana - March 20, 2019 12:42 pm
Just beautiful! My father was touched by Alzheimer’s. Thank you!
Nancy shields - March 20, 2019 12:49 pm
How lovely. Thank you.
Dru - March 20, 2019 12:53 pm
A movie. This one should be a movie.
robert - March 20, 2019 1:03 pm
Yesterday I pruned prickly hollies and could see the pollen rising off them. Opie Taylor called this “flower dust” and said it caused Johnny Paul Jason to sneeze! I always love to hear folks comment that “A good rain should take care of this.”
Naomi - March 20, 2019 1:15 pm
I had one aunt who had Alzheimer’s and my uncle took care of her at home for over 10 years. My husband had one aunt who had Alzheimer’s but she ended up in a nursing home because, after it got so bad, she didn’t have anyone to take care of her.
Naomi - March 20, 2019 1:19 pm
I forgot to post that our black car is now yellow. We live on the farm where my husband grew up but, since we don’t farm, we have planted thousands of pine trees in addition to a lot of hardwoods.
Mary - March 20, 2019 2:31 pm
Just precious, Sean. Just precious.
Jack Darnell - March 20, 2019 2:40 pm
There are two hateful words in my vocabulary, cancer and Alzheimer. Once your family or friends meet either of those two, YOU will never forget it. Very well written my friend and thanks.
Sherry & jack
Toni Barnum - March 20, 2019 2:56 pm
I begin each day with a “Sean & Coffee”. Today you made me cry (again!), but in a good way. You said nice things about caregivers. My sweet husband has the horrible disease of Alzheimer’s. I am his only caregiver. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done & my heart breaks each day a little more because he’s here, but he’s not. We’ve been married 40 years, but he doesn’t always remember that. He doesn’t always remember me. But, you know what? I’m so grateful that he’s still in our home, our safe place, with me. I’m tired & stressed most of the time, but nothing I’ve done in my life compares to the honor I feel to be able to do this for him. He’s always been my protector; now I’m his. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring but, for today, we’re okay. Don’t get me wrong, though, Sean, Alzheimer’s sucks! Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here for me every morning. From Sweet Home Alabama, God bless you and yours.
Charaleen Wright - March 20, 2019 3:08 pm
Shelton A. - March 20, 2019 3:16 pm
My car has, and has had, a coating of yellow since the end of Jan. You can see a grain of pine pollen-it’s the oak pollen that’s microscopic that get’s you. My mom had dementia-she slowly stopped being the person she was and forgot completely who she was eventually. She died not knowing me or my sister.
Pat - March 20, 2019 3:25 pm
As someone who does not suffer from pollen allergies, I seem to have developed a quite aggressive pollen allergy about…..the next to the last sentence! My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s. I am so thankful for her caregiver (a saint in my eyes) who allowed me to continue working.
Chasity Davis Ritter - March 20, 2019 4:02 pm
Yeah apparently that damn pollen has reached oklahoma this morning as my eyes are suddenly leaking all over the place. That’s the most amazing kind of love right there. Thanks for sharing even if it did make my allergies act up
Chris - March 20, 2019 4:10 pm
As I read this We are putting my dad in a home for those w Alzheimer’s. It’s the hardest thing mom and I have ever done…that includes my battle w stage 4 cancer that I won 5 years ago. There’s so much more I would like to share, but I’m not sure you read these anyways. I send your daily musings to my coworkers at school. Thanks for always being there and helping make my life better.
Ala Red Clay Girl - March 20, 2019 4:36 pm
A beautiful story (about the couple, not the pollen dust)! A true example of living out those wedding vows of “…in sickness and in health…till death do us part.”
Edna B. - March 20, 2019 5:25 pm
I spent many years tending to folks with Alzheimers. It’s not a nice disease, not at all. Sean, I agree with Dru, this would make a beautiful movie. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.
Gene Prince - March 20, 2019 5:49 pm
Thank you Sean. It is a cruel disease.
Susan Kennedy - March 20, 2019 8:04 pm
What a precious story. I was hoping you were going to show us the painting! I hate pollen.
Mary Ellen Hall - March 20, 2019 9:42 pm
BEAUTIFUL ARTICLE, SEAN!!!❤❤❤
Tim House - March 20, 2019 9:47 pm
What a bittersweet, heartfelt tale! <3
Marilyn Mason - March 20, 2019 11:37 pm
Love. It’s all about love. Even pollen is about love of sorts, but it sure can be bothersom. What a poinent story masterfully penned. Thank you Sean.
Janet Mary Lee - March 21, 2019 5:43 pm
Another gentle story that is a favorite ..again….How do you do that? (smile!)
throughmyeyesusa - March 21, 2019 11:28 pm
It’s begun. Slowly it advances, like a stalking animal. Most days are fine and it’s only small things, like having to remind him of things he always used to do, unasked, or being hyper vigilant when he’s driving. But I know it’s coming and my heart breaks.
For fifty years he’s been my soulmate, my friend, my lover, my strength. He has taken care of me through illness and been my advocate when I needed one most.
God, oh, God, please grant me the grace to be his strength, his advocate and his loving partner “‘til death us do part”….even if he doesn’t know me or realize I’m doing it.
Ella - March 22, 2019 2:13 am
Once again, Sean, you have written about a commonplace situation – pollen season, yard work – and made it such a beautiful, elegant testimony about kindness, humanity, and the power of love. Thank you
turtlekid - April 17, 2019 11:15 am
Pollen season Is when we stay inside, even though we don’t want to. Alzheimer’s is when we work without acknowledgement, even if we would prefer not to. We appreciate the discomfort of each, because there is a reward at the end.
Sharon Brock - February 4, 2021 1:36 am
My Mother died from Parkinson’s Disease in 2003. My maternal grandmother died from Alzheimers disease in 2005. Both are hideous and my greatest fear. Thank you for the story.