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Sunday in the Park

I don’t know when they disappeared from my life. I wasn’t paying attention. Not to the little things which always turn out to be the big things. And I took them for granted. Those upside-down girls in the full-skirted dresses.

I was late to loving so many of so many simple pleasures. Growing up in California, close to the ocean in a town just a train stop on the way from San Francisco to, well, anyplace else. It was a soulless kind of place, filled with social-climbing folks who bumped heads with the horsey set and aggie kids.

The flowers that grow near that coast are shipped all over the world. Ditto the pumpkins. And artichokes. You grew inured to the beauty of flowers that bloomed all year long and fruit trees in front yards. I moved to the mountains in Lake Tahoe for my 20s and I learned to love the distinct seasons. You planted, you watered, you appreciated how lush it all became and then you respectfully left it go to seed in September.

When I moved to Park City at the start of my 30s I was ill-prepared for the barren-ness of the subdivision I lived in. There were few trees or flowering anythings. The growing season was somehow shorter than Tahoe and the dirt was clay-like and rocky. And there were so few evergreen trees.

I learned to love the fall with colors making a patchwork quilt of hues on the mountainside. I learned, after a long time, to embrace the desert of southern Utah and I began to feel the beauty in a single blooming cactus flower. I celebrated the return in my yard of the columbine and the mint. Not like the rose and camellia bushes of my youth, which seemed to labor little to exist. I applauded the courage I found in the tulips that were buried deep in the fall and slept according to some biological clock of the plant world and burst forth out of that rocky, clay-like soil and pushing their strong stems up to the light of spring.

There was a handful of gardens in Old Town that you always admired in July when they were bursting with colors. Burnis and Betty Watts’ great flower and vegetable gardens come first to mind. (You know their place now as the High West Distillery). Was it Violet Terry’s yard or Nan McPolin’s where I first saw those impossibly tall flowers with the giant blossoms? No matter. There were so many white fences separating tiny homes in those days that the beauty really ran together.

I do know my friend JoAnn had them climbing up the sides of her house. In so many colors. Her house was at the edge of my subdivision but up on a little hill overlooking parts of Old Town and the resorts and back at the basin a bit, too. It was a lovely home, quite grand by my standards, but modest now in light of what has built up around us all. When she left that home and built another on the river in the county, she took some of those seeds with her and the new barns and buildings took on the feel of a well-loved, well-weathered home in no time.

She gave me some of those seeds and I was careful to plant them in several places in my yard, not knowing if they would take hold. And in all but one location they failed to connect. But in a little corner of my backyard they grew tall and beautiful and comical all at once. There was one season when I had white blooms and bright pink blooms and purple so dark it appeared black. My neighbor, the nun, came over one day and picked off one of the flowers. She turned it upside down and showed me that the hollyhock looked like a lady in giant full-skirted ball gown. I never tired of showing that trick to my grandchildren and all the children in the neighborhood.

Last summer, when the yard was in bloom, I noticed something, someone was missing. It took me a few days to realize the hollyhocks were gone. Gone from my yard. Gone from the little circle of our cul-de-sac. Gone. This summer I noticed only two of the dozens that once filled our circle. Two defiant pink ones in the neighbor’s yard.

I don’t understand the cycle of plants, or people for that matter. Maybe hollyhocks only reseed themselves for a few years. Maybe, like all relationships, they need attending in off years. When my friend who planted those great stalks by her barns died unexpectedly a few years ago, we placed seeds in little bags to give folks at her service for remembrance.

For so many, this is the season of reflection of the year past of deeds done well and those lacking. Of writing in the Big Book of Life your intentions for another year. I intend to be a better steward of all the gifts given me from flowers to friends. And to replace and repair those that matter. I will ask my friend’s husband if I might come over to that place on the river and gather some seeds. And maybe I’ll linger a bit where the water splashes over the rocks and reflect on what gifts I have to give, in gratitude for all that has been given to me, this past fruitful, fitful year. Maybe I’ll take that drive this very Sunday in the Park …

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.


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