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February 23, 2009


A dear lady, Helen Babb, lived in the country between Greer and Gowansville. Mrs. Babb loved beautiful flowers. In the late summer, rose companions covered an area near the old barn. They reseeded each year, multiplying in number and in beauty.

In the early spring, Helen Babb’s yard featured bright yellow jonquils, the petite relatives of daffodils. They, too, spread each year flowing like a graceful yellow ribbon down a gentle slope.

After Mrs. Babb’s death several years ago, her daughter knew that she would have to sell the home place. She wanted to save some of the heirloom flowers for her own yard in Spartanburg. In the fall, she dug up a box full of the jonquil bulbs, many more than she needed. She shared some with me.

On a rainy cold November afternoon, I planted the bulbs on an embankment near the waterfall in my garden. This February, the tiny flowers have put on a magnificent display.

This is the season of the garden narcissus. The flowering of jonquils and daffodils is a harbinger of spring and a symbol of hope.

The story of Narcissus comes to us from ancient Greek mythology.  Narcissus was a sixteen-year-old young man who became infatuated with his own reflection in a pool of water. He spurned the affection of the beautiful maiden, Echo, until she was finally reduced to nothing more than her sad, pleading voice. Narcissus, meanwhile, was so entranced by his own image in the pool that he was transformed into a flower at the water’s edge. The blooming plant that bears his name is commonly known as the daffodil.

Daffodils and their smaller Spanish cousins, jonquils, are harbingers of spring. Other flowering bulbs, like crocus and Lenten roses, are welcome sights even in the snow. But once the daffodils bloom, there can be no doubt that seasons are changing. It is as if the nodding trumpet-shaped flowers herald the arrival of spring.

Several years ago, two of our sons and I took a backpacking trip during spring break along the Foothills Trail in the Dark Corner, the northwestern section of South Carolina. Somewhere between the Keowee and the Whitewater Rivers, we crested a hill and were greeted with the stunning sight of hundreds of yellow daffodils. An old homestead had long since disappeared and was now marked only by a crumbling fieldstone foundation and a collapsed chimney. The flowers that graced the place each spring had survived and naturalized spreading through a meadow and across the forest floor.

The English poet, William Wordsworth, immortalized the daffodil in lines penned in 1804.

I wander’d lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Gene was a dear friend who grew up on a farm in Cherokee County, South Carolina. His success with the family business enabled him to build a home on the family farm within a stone’s throw of the old home place.  The beautiful new house has a wrap-around porch, graced with big rocking chairs. Visitors approach the home by a long driveway, flanked on the left by a horse pasture and a weathered barn. Up a hill to the right is the foundation of the former home.  In the early spring, this hill is covered with bright yellow daffodils. Originally planted by Gene’s mother around the old farmhouse, the daffodils have naturalized, spreading helter-skelter down the hillside.  Each year the flowers bloom from late February through March. The yellow-splotched hill is a sight to behold.

A few years ago, after several months of increasingly serious health problems, it became clear that Gene was quite ill.  The diagnosis was a rapidly growing, rare form of cancer.  His death came quickly, far sooner than most of us had expected.  While his death was anticipated, it was also sudden, making the grief experience jagged and confused. 

In mid-March, Gene went home from the hospital. On a bright, warm Sunday afternoon, just before he died, Gene asked if he could see the daffodils.  Surrounded by his loving wife, children, and several grandchildren, Gene was transported by wheelchair down the driveway near the barn.  He sat quietly for a few moments, taking in the sight of the hillside covered in delicate yellow blooms dancing in the breeze. 

Three days later Gene died.

At the graveside in a country churchyard, the children and grandchildren each placed a daffodil, picked from the hillside, on the polished wooden casket.  Even though yellow daffodils bring to mind bittersweet memories, they will be a perennial symbol of hope for Gene’s family.

In his concluding lines in the poem, “Daffodils”, Wordsworth captures, for all who find in them a signal of hope, the wonder of these spring flowers.

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

Jesus taught his followers how to deal with worry and anxiety. His counsel was to pay attention to birds and flowers. “Look at the birds of the air (and) … the flowers of the field. (Matthew 6:26,28) 

For Gene’s family those flowers will always be daffodils.


Kirk H. Neely

© February 2009


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