Bubba, Frances, and the flowers of spring
I do not know if you will ever read this. Your father David keeps encouraging me to tell my story and I resist, mainly because I do not feel worthy most of the time.
But this is springtime 2016 and I’m watching flowers break out in riotous joy everywhere I look. And that reminds me of your great, great, grandmother Bubba.
One flower always jumps out in my mind, the iris.
One of my first vivid memories was at our little house in West End. I can remember that the poor front yard was small and had no vegetation, mostly dirt and weeds. But on the side yard between our house and the wealthier Reeds, my mother had somehow performed a miracle and transformed the dirt and rocks into a wonderful garden. There were, of course irises, but also roses and daffodils and, in the summer, daisies and bachelor buttons.
We were relatively poor, with only the income my father made as a hair stylist, and there was no way my mother could have afforded to buy plants for her garden. So how did she get the plants?
When I was a lot older, Bubba and Travis finally were able to buy a home in Acipico that had room for Bubba to make a garden. Prior to that, Bubba and Travis had rented space from my great grandmother Big Momma Dean. I learned that my mother Frances was giving plants from her garden to Bubba for her new place. And Bubba had a tremendous green thumb. While Frances had been successful in growing the plants in her small garden, Bubba soon had a very large flower garden that dwarfed the one Frances had.
On one of my overnight stays with Bubba and Travis, I worked with Bubba in her garden and she shared for the first time more of her story.
Travis was not my blood grandfather, she told me. Bubba had divorced my ‘real’ grandfather Snow long before I was born because he was cruel to my mother. Your great grandmother, Frances, was a smart, athletic girl – she won three letters in basketball at Whitwell high school in Tennessee – and had wanted to go to nursing school. Back then, most southern girls did not think they could be doctors. But Grandpa Snow did not think girls should do anything except find a husband and work in the home. So he refused my mother and Bubba divorced him because of that. This is not to mention that Grandpa Snow had played around on my Bubba – he had. But when it came to her daughter, Bubba drew the line.
At the big house in Whitwell, Bubba had a large flower garden. But Grandpa Snow kept the house in the unfair divorces of the era, given that Bubba had initiated the divorce, and she lost her garden. Or would have except she colluded with a friend and raided the big house and ‘stole’ a large quantity of the flowers she was growing. Her friend transplanted the flowers at her home and promised Bubba she could have them when she found a new garden of her own.
After they moved to Birmingham, Bubba and Frances lived in an apartment house on Southside and, of course, could not make a garden there. But after my parents were able to get the small house in West End, Bubba’s friend would drive down to Birmingham with a trunk full of flowers and so Frances began her garden with the offspring of Bubba’s flowers. I’m guessing Bubba did her green thumb magic, because later when she and Travis were able to buy their own home, the flowers came home to roost.
Years later, we moved to East Lake, and after a few more years, so did Bubba and Travis. Both houses in East Lake soon had tremendous gardens that were unbelievably beautiful in the springtime. I spent many an hour helping Frances with hers, and just as many helping Bubba with hers. They had quite a competition going back then in the early 60s.
While I was at the Air Force Academy, my mother Frances finally found a way to go to nursing school. I to this day do not know how she found the money. But she did and by the time I graduated, she had earned a LPN, licensed practical nurse, associate’s degree. For the first time in my life, she had a way to make her own money and, shortly after I graduated, she divorced my father. They sold the house on 9th Avenue and most of the flowers found their way back to Bubba’s, as did my mother and brother Dan. Mother took over the second of the two bedrooms upstairs in Bubba’s house, and Dan got the new bedroom in the basement that I had dug with Mr. Grey the summer before I left for the Academy.
Your grandmamma, Cyndy, and I started a new home in Lake Forest near Mobile just before Bubba died. Frances soon began to insist that I take some of Bubba’s plants for our new house and I did, though I did not have much of a green thumb. Those flowers were lost when Cyndy and I temporarily separated when your mom was two, but after we built the house in Sans Souci, Frances again gave me offspring of Bubba’s to plant at our new home. I don’t have a green thumb, and most were lost, but enough lived and prospered to grow into a respectful garden on the back side of our garage in Sans Souci.
Unfortunately, that is where the story of Bubba’s flowers ends. When C and I sold the Sans Souci house, neither of us had earth in which to plant the flowers. So all were left to the new owners. Perhaps, if God is good, Bubba’s flowers continue to grow at that house in Montrose. Perhaps, someday, you can go to that house and ask the owners if you can take a cutting or bulb.
Bubba would like that. This one and the original.