from Reflections on a Life, writings and paintings for my father
My dad told me he’d be sending me a box with seeds in it. “It should be coming soon,” he said, and he sounded happy. Several days later, he called again, mildly alarmed. “Did you receive the box yet?” I hadn’t. “Be careful when you open it. Don’t just plunge a knife into it. Open it gently.” I was amused by his concern, but when the box arrived, I took his advice. I gingerly cut the tape and carefully pulled open the flap. And then I understood his trepidation. Inside the box were a variety of seeds in bags packed so tightly that the box was nearly spring-loaded. I called him.
“There are enough seeds in here,” I said, “To grow a jungle.”
He laughed. He suggested I take the box with me and sprinkle seeds along the edges of streams. “You could be like Johnny Apple Seed,” he said. But I wasn’t like Johnny Apple Seed. I planted the seeds only in my own garden, along with some in pots so I’d be able to identify them. Most sprouted, but the ones labeled “LITTLE BLUE FLOWERS” did not. I’d always meant to ask him what they looked like.
And then, after he died, as I read through his old letters, I found one with seeds taped to the bottom, and his block printing beside the tape: “LITTLE BLUE FLOWERS.” I found several envelopes with these seeds sprinkled in. He’d been sending me the blue flower seeds for years, and I hadn’t been paying attention.
I decided to plant the seeds. I’d get to see the flowers he enjoyed, and when they blossomed and produced more seeds, I’d fill my garden with them. I looked forward to finding out what they were and to having another link to my dad. So I potted them up and watered them, but they never germinated. Eventually I ran out of seeds, so their identity remains a mystery.
I feel sad about this and at least a little stupid. And yet, even though I failed, there’s a resonance of sweetness here. My dad’s attempts at giving me these flowers are not lost. As I wander through the world, I see many flowers I cannot name and some of them are blue. And because no one single flower is definitely his, any of them can be. And so now, every little blue flower I come across holds in its petals the spirit of a man who loved their delicate beauty and who sent me those seeds.
An earlier version of this writing and an unaltered version of the above painting were part of an exhibit honoring my father shortly after his death.