Every Sunday we drove up the road in Dad's old truck to visit my great grandmother, Granny Laurie. We had to take the old truck because there really wasn't a road to her house, there was only a creek bed to follow.
Like all creek beds in our mountains, the one to Granny Laurie's house was made of uneven rock, and since our mountains were full of veins of coal, coal often appeared in the creek beds, too, right along with veins of slippery gray clay. When we hit a slick vein of coal and a slick vein of clay and an uneven rock at the same time, you can be sure the truck ride was as exciting as riding the Tilt a Whirl at the carnival. Granny Laurie for sure didn't have a lot of vehicles arriving at her house.
Granny Laurie was Granny Ninna's mother and was as old as the hills when I was a little girl. She lived alone in a log cabin that my great grandfather had built for her when they married in 1886. My great grandfather passed away when I was only 4, but I remember well the cane he shook at me whenever I got near the one and only rose that bloomed in their front yard.
Most of the rest of their yard was used for growing vegetables, miles and miles of vegetables it seemed to me. I wasn't allowed to traipse through their vegetables either, for fear of that cane Grampa always held in his hand. But oh, I loved that rose.
It bloomed early and forever, it seemed, and it was the most gorgeous pale pink color. It grew very near to the last row of asparagus in their garden. If I stood in just the right corner, right beside the porch, the asparagus became a lovely green feathery backdrop for the long canes of those delicious pink roses. The trouble was, Grampa sat on that same corner of the porch and his cane was always in his hand. But oh, I loved that rose.
I'm sure I was properly saddened when we lost Grampa, I don't remember much about his death since I was very young. I do remember knowing very well that I was going to get much closer to that rose bush, the dreaded cane in Grampa's hand was no longer threatening me.
That was the year I discovered thorns, but that didn't bother me and I must have picked every single rose that was within reaching distance of my greedy little hands. I grabbed the ferny asparagus, too. Granny Ninna cleaned up the thorn scratches, and wiped my tears over and over again. I think she knew how much I loved that rose.
Granny Laurie passed away in 1960 during my senior year of high school. I no longer went up the creek bed road to her house, instead I embarked on a college career that took me away from my mountains. I never thought about that wonderful pink rose again, not until I lived in Louisville and had a home of my own.
One summer in Louisville my Granny Ninna came to stay with me for awhile and she brought with her a tiny sprig of green.
"Let's plant this here in a corner of your back yard," she said. "I believe you'll like it when it blooms." The thought of the old pink rose crossed my mind.
It was hot in Louisville that summer, and I was busy with graduate classes and forgot about that sprig of green Ninna had planted in the corner of my yard. The truth was I was so busy being grown up, I very nearly forgot my roots and the little sprig of green did not grow.
A few years later I moved to western Kentucky, and here in the flatlands I realized I missed my mountains. Isn't that always what happens? We never know what is precious to us until we lose it. There was no way I could recreate a mountain in my flat yard, but I thought maybe I could surround myself with plants that I had grown to love when I was a child. With a little help from my mother, I set about doing that very thing.
"Mom, I need some daylilies, I really need bee balm, and I have to have a start of your spiderwort. And an iris or two. I just have to have an iris!" My mother was an enabler. That was the beginning.
In 1976 my daughter was born in July. I had some health problems and my son was only 2 at the time, so my Granny Ninna came all the way from the mountains to help me that fall, at a time when I really needed her. With her she brought a little sprig of green.
That time I knew immediately what it was and Ninna again planted it in a corner beside my house.
"This time, I'm making sure it will bloom!" she said, and she drove a stake in the ground behind it, marking its spot for all to see.
There have been some years when it was neglected and last year we had such a terrible drought I thought it had died. And some time ago I had to cut it all the way back and move it because a nearby tree had grown so much it was blocking the sun. But still it grows and blooms and grows and blooms and forever makes me smile.
This has been a year for roses with all the rain that has kept us flooded here in the flatlands. Recently I was away from home for nearly 2 weeks and when I returned, the first thing I saw was Granny Laurie's rose peering down at me from my roof! What an amazing rose.
I don't know when or where Granny Laurie got the rose, it was in her yard for as long as I can remember. To her, if a plant wasn't edible, she didn't have much use for it, but the rose was always well cared for. I wish I knew where she got it, I'm sure it must have a story all its own.
Some years ago when I started writing about the plants I knew as a child, I asked my best rose buddy, Zuzu, if she recognized my Granny Laurie's rose. She told me to take a look at Dorothy Perkins because she thought there was a striking resemblance and the fact that mine was around in the 40's might be another identifying factor.
And Dorothy Perkins it is! I'm sure those of you who know roses know all about this old bloomer. I had to do some research and this is what I found:
Jackson & Perkins began selling roses before the turn of the century, but it was some time before they became the company's main product. That happened almost by chance, the result of an employee's interest in rose breeding.
In 1896 the company hired E. Alvin Miller, who, in addition to his regular duties, tried his hand at hybridizing roses. In 1901, Jackson & Perkins marketed one of Miller's varieties, a climber called Dorothy Perkins, which became one of the most widely planted roses in the world. (Jackson & Perkins)
How Dorothy Perkins got to my great grandmother's house up a slick creek bed road in the mountains of southeast Kentucky will forever remain a mystery. But I know very well how it got to my house. I love that old rose, and since it has taken over the southeast corner of my house, I truly believe what an old friend said to me recently: "I think that rose loves you."
Maybe so. I sure do love that rose!
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