The Emma Gene Iris


Emma Gene, my late mother-in-law, took a perverse pride (to my mind anyway) in getting up very, very early and made it clear that those lazy people who slept in until 7:00 a.m. were probably Communist and definitely unpatriotic. She didn’t approve of me much, but she liked me better than she liked her other daughter-in-law.

She was the picture of health – even in her 80s. She took a water pill once a day and that was it. She loved to walk; she walked to the grocery; she walked to the drug store; she walked over to the mall where she walked with her friends.

It was on one of those early morning walks that she spotted a diligent gardener weeding her flower beds in the cool morning. Now, Emma Gene was also very proud of the fact whatever came into her head went out of her mouth. This time, it worked to my advantage.

Emma Gene stopped to admire the flower bed, “Morning,” she said.

The gardener looked up, “Good morning.”

Emma Gene said, “Pretty flowers.”

The gardener said, “Thank you.”

Emma Gene said, ” “Specially that big, purple iris.”

The gardener said, “Thank you.”

Emma Gene said, “You know, I believe my daughter-in-law would like a start of that.”

The gardener, who was by this time probably ready to end the sparkling conversation and get back to weeding, obligingly dug up a nice rhizome and handed it to her.

Emma Gene said, “Thank you.”

The gardener said, “You’re welcome” and bent back over her weeding.

That iris is still the most beautiful one I possess; stems and leaves are very large and sturdy; the blooms are the deepest, most velvety purple you can imagine and it has a lovely scent, too. I have no idea what cultivar it is, I just call it the Emma Gene iris.

This last weekend, I was dividing the Emma Gene iris and transplanting rhizomes in my newest, sunnier bed I had to smile to myself in remembrance. Emma Gene lived to be almost 98 and never did come to like me. But, I have part of her in my two children and the iris she knew I would like.

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