Our version of a Clampett pickup, overloaded for its age, had slowed to a crawl. After a 200-mile trek, we—two fifty something sisters and our 75-year-old parents—arrived in Maine on July 1 six years ago just before midnight. Our eyes full of stars, we pitched a tent and stumbled in. The next morning, we found that the sun had risen on a bramble of old-fashioned pink roses, tumbling out of a thicket-choked pit. My mother fell in love with them, a gift from a nameless couple from another century whose old house had decayed and burned.
We scrabbled to forge a new life in Maine’s Unorganized Territory, as wild a frontier as exists in 21st-century America. The town we had lived in was too congested, and my dad’s driving in heavy traffic was a concern, so we opted for a simpler pace in a smaller place. We built a cabin on the site of the destroyed home, and my mother worried when construction crushed the rosebush.
Through the blizzards that first winter, I never thought about the roses, but my mom clung to her memory of their beautiful greeting when we first arrived. Come spring, fragile green appeared on the broken thorny canes. Mom had doubts whether or not they would ever bloom, but, come July 1, they did, suffusing the air with their sweet fragrance.
Each year they bloomed on schedule. They rioted pink for our boy’s backyard wedding as Dad, a pastor, performed his last marriage ceremony. They flowered again, a bittersweet reminder of happier times, when that same boy came back from Iraq, wounded and broken. By July 1 this year, our dad had left this life, but the roses came, offering up their loyalty to my mom once more.
Regardless of broken stems and hearts, the roses come. For years they shared their rugged loveliness with only the bees and deer. Now they share in our loneliness. They’re wild, unkempt and thorny, but they come in silent tribute to love remembered. Like me, they’re not long-stem florist shop beauties; their treasure lies in their small, hardy cheerfulness.
In the six years since we homesteaded here, I never considered life whole without our family. I took our daily ups and downs together for granted, like the roses’ faithful flowering. Well-meaning friends tell me it’ll never be the same. They’re right. My family will have happy times, but it’ll never be quite as warm, comfortable and complete as we once knew it. Yet, like roses, I can’t let go of the love, or life will become all duty, burden and sacrifice with no joy—and no perfumed blossoms.
The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Judith Ann Hupp is a reader from Unorganized Territory, Maine.