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In Loving Memory of Amaryllis

Amaryllis | Hippeastrum

Today’s exceptional post was shared with us by Olivia Nicholas, a writer and a busy mom. She is always happy to share her passion for life and experiences through her work.

I’ve never been sure what made me remember Grandmother’s amaryllis obsession when autumn first began to turn the leaves this year. It could have been a flash of scarlet fabric seen from the corner of my eye, or maybe a stately bell-shaped flower struggling to carry on its existence despite the slow creep of cold weather. Whatever the case, I found myself driving to the local greenhouse one day instead of going directly home as I usually did after work. The clerk was very helpful, directing me to the perennial bulb section and setting me up with flower pots, soil, and everything else necessary to cultivate and continue my grandmother’s flower legacy. Excited, I got to work as soon as I got home.

The feel of the amaryllis bulbs in my hand and the rich smell of potting soil evoked even more memories of planting flowers at my grandparents’ home. Like my grandmother herself, amaryllis is a winter beauty, as dainty and gorgeous as it is tough and hardy; both thrive in cold weather and wilt in the heat. In my mind, the two of them had always been synonymous, especially since my grandmother was also called Amaryllis.

Early Memories of Amaryllis

Orange AmaryllisThroughout my childhood, amaryllis flowers had always been part of my grandmother’s life. For birthdays and Christmas, she sent either a potted plant or a cluster of amaryllis bulbs wrapped in pretty paper. My favorite childhood memories involve the two of us, heads bent in earnest concentration over a table filled with amaryllis bulbs, fragrant dark soil and flower pots we had decorated ourselves. To her, no other flower measured up and none ever would, despite my grandfather’s lifelong quest to introduce her to other forms of flower gardening. Sure, she dabbled, but she always remained true to her first blooming love, the beautiful crimson amaryllis.

As I worked in my small kitchen, filling one pot after another with soil, my mind continued its journey back in time. I thought more about our marathon planting sessions and recalled seeing a potted amaryllis in every window from Halloween through Christmas, the flower’s most productive flowering stage. I remembered it was during those gardening sessions that I learned about Grandmother Amaryllis, including intimate details about her life. She told me how my grandfather had proposed in February and wanted to get married right away, but she made him wait till late fall to ensure she would have a bouquet of red amaryllis to hold in her hand. Even Grandfather’s wedding boutonniere held a single amaryllis bloom rather than the more common “wedding white” flowers popular at the time.

Once as we worked together planting fresh bulbs, I asked Grandmother why she loved the flowers so much. She paused for a moment and then began reciting a poem I had never heard before. Her voice fell into a hush that enchanted me and the poem held such a haunting feeling of yearning and sorrow that I broke into tears. She murmured comforting words and brushed the hair from my face, then explained that the poem, “Amaryllis” by Edwin Arlington Robinson (below), had inspired her own mother to bestow her with the name.

The Legend of Amaryllis

As a teenager stricken with a lengthy and potentially fatal illness, Grandmother had discovered the amaryllis flower and been taken by its deep beauty, hardy constitution and poignant symbolism. Legend claims that Amaryllis began life as a pale, shy nymph who desperately loved a handsome shepherd named Alteo. Sadly, he did not return her feelings and yearned instead for a flower unlike any the world had ever seen. In desperation, Amaryllis sought counsel from the oracle of Delphi who told her to appear before Alteo’s door every night dressed in maiden white and to pierce her heart each time with a golden arrow. Finally, Alteo opened his door and there before him was a beautiful crimson bloom which grew out of the blood spilled from Amaryllis’s heart. As such, the flower represents determination, pride, strength and radiant beauty. Grandmother explained that the legend combined with the words of the poem had motivated her to shake off her illness and approach life with those same admirable qualities.

In Loving Memory of Amaryllis

As I finished planting my amaryllis bulbs, I thought back to her funeral. The family had arranged for a delicate spray of Grandmother’s favorite flower to adorn her casket, but I remembered seeing much more. In my grief of the moment, I had not realized how intimately Grandmother Amaryllis had touched everyone in her life. As I thought more about her memorial service I saw the proof of this when I recalled that the only flowers in sight were rows and rows of red amaryllis sent by every person who knew and loved her.

 Once, when I wandered in the woods alone,
An old man tottered up to me and said,
“Come, friend, and see the grave that I have made
For Amaryllis.” There was in the tone
Of his complaint such quaver and such moan
That I took pity on him and obeyed,
And long stood looking where his hands had laid
An ancient woman, shrunk to skin and bone. 
Far out beyond the forest I could hear
The calling of loud progress, and the bold
Incessant scream of commerce ringing clear;
But though the trumpets of the world were glad,
It made me lonely and it made me sad
To think that Amaryllis had grown old.

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Thanks so much to Olivia Nicholas for sharing! Olivia also works as a freelance writer for Storkie.com.

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