About a year ago, in May, I came across violas on the side of a dirt road. “Free,” the sign said. A heavy spade-sized wet soil clump topped with flowers on top of a Blue Seal feed bag for easy transport.
I stopped, of course. The clump was heavier than expected, and their scent as I knelt to pick them up was overwhelming, almost dizzying. Sunlight filtered through overhead branches on a narrow dirt road, the green of new spring leaves, and the dirt of the road crunched underfoot.
I had no idea violas could be so heavily scented. I filled the front seat of my car with a huge clump of violas. I tucked them in the front foot well on the passenger side. The fragrance filled the car. The entire ride home all I could smell was violas. Not all violas have a fragrance. These did.
Once home, I planted them close to the house, in a sunny east facing garden bed and around a sugar maple tree near the garage. I brought some more over to my mother’s and planted them there under a rapidly darkening sky in the rain, at the edge of an oncoming hailstorm. As I went to put my trowel away, the rain came off the eaves and drenched me and as I struggled with the lock on the cellar door, hail started. I dashed for the safety of the car, wet clothes and hair, and drove home through the storm.
This spring, a year later, I’ve been watching for their return. Violas usually come back year after year, either from persistent perennial roots or from having self-sown seeds. They’re called ‘ Johnny Jump Ups,’ I think because they usually come back. It’s a little odd that I can’t find any trace of them this year. The crocus bloomed, the hostas are sending up spikes, and there are shoots of lily of the valley leaves and violets, full-blooming daffodils, but no trace yet of these violas. We had a late spring, and that may be why. But I wonder. I wonder if they are gone.
Those violas, that hailstorm, it was the middle of May exactly a year ago. At the time they were a welcome sign of warm weather and they reminded me of past family gardens, and I was charmed by their scent and by the generosity of some unknown gardener setting them out for others.
While wondering whether they’ll come back, those violas remind me of what I have lost since last year. As the leaves unfurl and the grass greens, I remember last spring. A year ago I planted these at my mother’s. She died that October.
The not-so-funny-but-funny thing about loss is how it’s possible to keep knocking right against or bumping right into what is no longer there. Those gaps where something or someone no longer is… they are bordered by surprisingly hard edges of habit or memory. Habits that no longer work as they once did (oh, you say to yourself, I’ll just ask… but no, you can’t ask. There is no one there any longer to ask).
Empty spaces with hard edges made of habit, or of memories, this is where violas lead to the remembrance of loss. These flowers of mine, the ones someone shared with me, and that I shared with my mother, the ones I remember in my grandmother’s garden, the ones I’ve planted before in other homes, the people I used to know, those I loved, family, the homes I’ve lived in, the gardens. It’s almost mother’s day and I feel as if I’m knocking up against the borders of a lot of empty spaces.
But it is, at last, spring again.