Angie of the Peonies

About 5 years ago our neighbor lady died. I knew her my whole life and my mother knew her, her whole life too. They attended school together. They started out in the same neighborhood and as life would have it, they ended up on farms that were close again.

For some reason I never called her by her proper name and always called her Angie, although many others knew her by, Ange. She was kind and good and worked right along side her husband out in the field and the barn. She also cooked all the meals, washed all the clothes, picked all the apples, tended the entire garden and had the most beautiful peonies that I ever saw.

Her husband, daughter and Angie were at all my birthdays that I celebrated and remember when I lived at “home”. They always gave me birthday presents like a faux turquoise necklaces set, those fun draw on etchers where you draw then lift the plastic and the drawing goes away, potholder looms and knitted mittens that Angie’s mom made. I loved them all and was lucky to have them. They had so many barn cats which were all the most tame I had ever seen. I never left there without being offered a kitty.

They had the best fudge that they kept in the freezer at Christmastime with root beer ice cream popsicles from the Schwan’s man in July. There were cold Bireley’s in the fridge for extra special events. They had this amazing double sitting swing in the yard. It was red and we would swing with so much force yet I didn’t worry about falling out. Although I remember being told to hang on. If it was too hot to work they had a croquet set in the front yard where I learned the new word of wicket. I remember thinking how special we were to play with these beautifully painted balls brightly colored with stakes that matched in a holder for them all. Then I looked up at the windows of the second story.

When they first moved there they lived in the upstairs apartment. When I was around, they only used it as storage as they had long ago bought the entire property and moved downstairs. When they were doing a thorough cleaning, when I was not even born yet, this daughter that treated me so well as her much younger friend, left her many baby dolls out in the sun and their faces melted. They kept many of these poor dollies upstairs in that former apartment as if there was a doll hospital for doll babies. I only saw their semi melty faces once staring at me and me staring back at them with pity as no one was playing with them anymore. I could very well understand why they were not destroyed, because after all they were the first toys we learned to care for and love. What I couldn’t understand was why they were not still loved. I understand now as that time for baby dolls was over for the daughter and I was still young enough to be in that stage. It takes a long time to part with a loved baby if one every does…even if your face melts. The morale of that story for me was not lost on me and I NEVER left my babies out in the hot sun or in the car…until I was too old for baby dolls and stored in them boxes in a cupboard near the ceiling in our unairconditioned house where their faces turned odd colors and their skin got a little harder. Sometimes you don’t know a thing until you know.

There was an apple orchard with a little tree platform built into one of the apple trees so you could sit there, eat apples and pitch cores way out beyond the fence for the horse, Dusty, to get later. There were little boards nailed into the trunk of the low tree for foot and hand holds to get you up to the wooden platform in the middle of the tree. You could think up there. It was still warm, but it was in a tree so it was special and secluded. The bees buzzed below as the windfalls started to ferment and drew the buzzing insects to fragrantly sweet juice. This gave a good view of the side road, the pasture, the tiny creek, and the vegetable garden.

Angie’s huge vegetable garden had a stone path down one side popping up here and there just enough to make a way around one side. This garden was flanked by the most luscious of all flowers, the peonies. They start out at tight balls of white, or pink or burgundy with leaves that are the perfect accompaniment to this beauty of the early summer garden. Then when the iris have had a head start they burst out with sometimes shaggy , sometimes sculpted mops of soft perfectly formed splendor. The perfume is like no other.

When I was that little girl in Angie’s garden I was amazed at how many and how beautiful they were. For some reason my mother did not grow these so they were a yearly wonder. I imagine that at one time I was only a foot taller than the bushes themselves where my little nose was nearly on the same plane as the velvety petals. Later as each year I grew and came over to take in this lovely sight, I would bend over to bury my face into the scents.

I would have ridden my bike there to ride around the block with that sweet daughter of theirs. I had a basket on that bike and Angie would cut a huge bouquet of these beauties and fill my basket and say, “Janie, take these home to your ma.” I gladly did and waved goodbye for the two mile bike ride home. The ants would have fallen out by the time I pumped up O’Reilly’s hill and the momentum alone blew the sweet scent into my face all the way home.

I went to see Angie’s daughter last evening and enjoyed her lovely peonies blooming around her house built on that same farm in an adjoining yard of that garden. I recounted that memory to her and we smiled to think of it. We waved good bye, this time from my car window. I came home to my own peonie bushes and tomorrow I will be once again taking a bouquet to my “ma”.

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