The Dried Flowers


Sentiment is not something I was taught. It was born in me.

Both my parents were hardscrabble Appalachian folks where sentimentality was a luxury that could be afforded no more than new, wool coats for the entire family or a simple, gold wedding band for my grandmother.

But me? I am painfully sentimental about all things. I would not wish the magnitude of this burden on anyone. It hurts woefully.

When I built this house, there was a wonderful, old oak tree in the far corner of the yard. I adored it, childishly pleased that it was my tree. Majestically, the tree towered among pines and maples. From a back porch rocker, I admired it and, often, when I backed out of the garage into the turnaround, I took a moment to gaze upon that tree and smile at it before easing down the driveway.

Slowly, it started to look sad. The leaves dropped. The wood turned from healthy green to sickly gray. We have frequent thunder and lightning storms on The Rondarosa. Tink loves it and the driving rain because they don’t get these kinds of storms in Southern California. I began to consider that the tree had been struck down by God’s mighty hand in the form of a deadly electrical strike.

I fretted. I worried. I watched. I prayed. Hope sprang within my heart and I whispered to myself, “It has survived for over a hundred years. It’s a drought. It’ll bounce back.”

One night, Mama was visiting. The woman, with whom I always shared my worries and headaches, was walking with me in the back yard.

“Mama, look at that tree over there.” She turned and studied it with a wise eye. I continued. “I’m so worried that it’s dying.”

“It’s dead,” she pronounced with nary a seed of emotion. “Probably hit by lightning.”

My heart swelled with hard, painful hurt. My eyes welled with tears. “Oh, no, I’ll be heartbroken if I lose it.”

There was no sympathy in her voice or demeanor as she climbed the porch steps. If anything, she was irritated at my tenderness.

“It’s just a tree. Worry over somethin’ that matters.”

I knew then that I didn’t have a sympathetic friend. I was on my own. And, try as I might, I couldn’t shrug it off. The months ticked by slowly until the tree — all 60 feet — died. There was no doubt that all hope had evaporated. Months later, its trunk lightened by the weightlessness of death, fell over and made it clear that there would be no resurrection.

Now that you know this story, you may understand the next one. Perhaps you recall that Mama just up and died without warning one Sunday afternoon. She was laughing happily in my foyer, then swayed, and had barely hit the floor when Jesus picked her up and took her home with Him.

The previous day, I had emceed a fashion show where Mama had been a surprise model. Four hundred women stood and cheered the woman whose exploits entertained them through my stories. The organizers of the fashion show had given Mama an enormous arrangement of flowers.

The next afternoon, after church, when Mama came to the house for our yearly birthday party for my dachshund, Dixie Dew, she brought a vase of flowers that she had made by pulling flowers from the big arrangement.

So thoughtful. So Mama. After her death, I let the flowers dry out. They have set — just as Mama arranged them — on a table next to the chaise on the upstairs landing.

For 15 years, the vase has set there until our beagle recently jumped on the chaise and knocked the vase off. The ancient pedals collapsed into tiny pieces. My last gift from Mama, gone.

Should you think I threw out them out, you’d be wrong. What remains in the vase now sits on a shelf in the barn.

That’s as unsentimental as I can be.

[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of the novel – “St. Simons Island: A Stella Bankwell Mystery.” Visit to sign up for her weekly newsletter.]