I am digging a hole in my backyard. I’m doing this for many reasons. Namely, because it’s a pandemic and I’m stuck at home. Sometimes people who are stuck at home go batty and start digging holes for no explainable reason.
I’m also digging because this hole is going to be a rose garden. I love roses, and I’ve always wanted to try growing them. My Aunt Eulah often used to say, “I’d rather have roses on my table than gold in my pocket.”
One year ago if you had told me I’d be digging a rose garden I would’ve choked on my chili dog. Because before the pandemic I never had time for roses, I was always busy. I was usually on the road, visiting places, meeting new people, or eating cholesterol in distant airports. It was the life of a writer, and it was my life.
But now I’m at home all the time and the most active thing I do is take my dogs for potty walks. Which is a frustrating task because one of my dogs refuses to pee on a leash. And it’s very important to make her “go,” otherwise this dog’s bladder will reach red-alert status and there will be a nuclear accident on our kitchen floor.
So my life has become uneventful. Finding material for columns has also gotten harder because most things I write about are things I read about. And most of what I read comes in the form of emails, personal letters, and messages. I get a lot of emails.
Used to, the majority of these messages were happy and encouraging. But as the pandemic raged forward the messages got angrier and more negative. Some of the comments became downright cruel. One guy told me I had a face shaped like a “football covered in hair.”
You almost have to admire that kind of verbal creativity.
Of course I also read about current events so I can write columns about those. But writing about current events is tricky because this means you have to do research by poring over news stories. And reading the news can be a major bummer.
This morning, for example, I opened a newspaper and was immediately sorry. Each story was about the worst thing that had happened within a 24-hour period. So I closed the newspaper and used it to clean up my kitchen floor.
The funny thing is, I grew up in an age of newspapers. Each morning my mother and I delivered the Daily News to half of Okaloosa and Walton County, working from 3:30 A.M. until sunrise. I read the paper constantly. I desperately wanted to be a journalist.
But now? I wouldn’t survive in a modern newsroom. Today’s journalism has become younger, “hipper,” and internet based. Even the headlines are written funky.
Here are a few actual headlines I saw this morning:
“14 Foods I Literally Haven’t Been Able to Stop Thinking About.”
And: “22 Millennials Share Their Debt Struggles so Gen-Z Can Totally Rock It.”
I don’t want this stuff in my home.
What I’m getting at is that sometimes I am out of step with the current world. And this brings me back to this column’s original point. Roses.
Since the COVID era began, I’ve been reading a lot about roses in “The Old Farmer’s Almanac.” I almost can’t believe I’m now a reader of the quintessential old-man magazine, but there you are.
My grandfather read the almanac. My mother still reads it. All my ancestors once read it. The “Old Farmer’s Almanac” has been coming out every September since 1792, making it the longest running publication in North America.
And it’s a delight. Beneath the almanac’s ornately illustrated cover is a much simpler world than the one we live in. You can read about long term weather predictions, old-fashioned herbal remedies, American folklore, wives tales, phases of the moon, and of course, growing roses.
Oh, the roses.
Years ago I wrote a story about an elderly man who grew roses. I’ll never forget him. He was a tall, hunched man who wore tweed trousers and loafers to work in his garden. He grew the prettiest flowers you ever saw.
He’d been perfecting his rose varieties since the 1950s. But when his wife died of brain cancer, he practically began living in his garden. He named his roses after her. He talked to his flowers. He pampered them.
That afternoon he showed me his rose garden by throwing open his garden gate with a sweep of his arm. I was overcome by what I saw.
I didn’t expect so many roses in one place. There were hundreds. Maybe hundreds of millions. They stretched toward the horizon. It was too much magnificence at once, and it hurt my chest. I almost started crying.
I walked among the blushing pinks, the linen whites, the peachy yellows, and the crimson reds, overcome with genuine awe. And I knew that someday, somehow, I wanted to be like this man. I too wanted to bring something lovely into this world. I didn’t care what that something was. I just wanted my life’s purpose to be about beauty.
I don’t have children, I’ve never done anything remarkable. I’ve never won a single award, never hit a grand slam, my house is itty-bitty, my truck is 20 years old. I’ll probably make a mess of these roses and accidentally kill them all, but I hope not.
Because I can honestly say that in these troubled times of negativity, sadness, and scary headlines, I’d rather have roses on my table than gold in my pocket.