Valentine Roses

A few rose-related snapshots, leading you down the meandering path I’ve been following this week:

1. My mother and sister grow roses in their gardens, and over the years have picked up quite a bit of knowledge about them. I, on the other hand, love roses without understanding them at all. The wilder and more old-fashioned, the better. (Unless you plan to send me a bouquet of cut roses – then make them yellow tea roses, if possible – a preference I developed in college which I no longer remember the reason for.)

2. One year, a student organization on our campus was selling singing telegrams for Valentine’s Day. For a dollar, one could select from a group of four or five “love” songs, and the students would go to your friend’s room or office and sing it – along with a spoken message from you, the sender. My friend, Al, sent a telegram to my office: he picked “The Rose” for them to sing. He thought it was the cheesiest option and that I would laugh at it. Instead, I cried. In case you missed it, THEY SANG “THE ROSE” to me ON VALENTINE’S DAY. In my office. Duh. Any self-respecting woman of my generation would have done the same.

3. My maternal grandmother’s name was Rose. And while there aren’t many in my generation named after her, the next generation is a garden of Roses: Atalie Rose, Abi Rose, Aubrey Rose, Zoe Rose. All of them named after a grandmother beloved, but unknown, to them.

So, what led to these meandering thoughts about roses and my grandmother, Rose? One of the “joys” of having what appears to be a genetic predisposition to certain cancers, is the extensive family history taken, then distributed among family  members (in our case, mothers, sisters, cousins – women related via the maternal line). I received a copy of this family history in the mail the other day, from my sister Chris. And I’ve been thinking about all these Roses ever since.

My grandmother, Rose Postel, died in 1965, days after the birth of my sister, Gwen. Gwen, our blue-eyed, blonde-haired beauty – the only one in a family sea of brunettes with dark eyes. Family lore is that Grandma always wanted a blonde grandchild, and that this was the final wish granted in her too-short life. I was four when Grandma died, she was 50.

Maybe there are those among you who think fifty years isn’t that short, as lifetimes go. Rose lived to see her children grown, married, starting families of their own. On the other hand, she only met half of her grandchildren, and the oldest was only five when she passed away. I don’t know what my sister remembers, but I only have one memory of Rose that I am sure is authentic (she is stirring up a batch of peanut butter cookies in her kitchen; they’re my favorite). But I do remember my mom, overwhelmed by her life with six kids, living with her widower father, being alternately sad and angry that her mother wasn’t there. I think I would have liked Rose, my dad says she had a keen eye and a sharp wit. Is it strange to say I miss her, when I barely knew her so long ago?

As I’m sure you’ve deduced, the fact that I turned 50 this year myself impacts my own perspective. I think of all the things I still hope to achieve and experience in my life – no longer the youthful yearning to have a meteoric impact on the planet – rather, the desire to live my own life as fully, as deeply, as possible. And I think of  this garden of young roses – Atalie, Abi, Aubrey, Zoe…and their sisters and cousins. And I want to say to them: “Don’t hold back.” “Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) make you be smaller than you are.” Do. Be. Love. Live. So that at any age, you can say, “I’ve really lived my life.”

Because there are no guarantees. 30, 50, 60 – even if we hit the jackpot and live to 100 – we never know how many years we will have. But we do know we have today. Cancer sucks. But the only way to truly beat it – and/or all the other life-sucking things we might encounter –  is to fully inhabit our lives, each day we are graced enough to wake up to them.

Flashback Friday – Nice Ride, Brother!

It was 1970-something. Back row: Dave, Debbie Ross, Stephanie Beller, Marla St. Clair; Front Row: Jeff Hanson, Susannah Ross, me.

The car belonged to my friend and youth-group leader, Dave Finnegan. From the first night we met, at a Tuesday night Inter-Church Youth (ICY) meeting, I thought he was awesome. Gentle of spirit, kind, and incredibly smart. Not a bad volleyball player. Or too shabby with that guitar.

In the ensuing 35 or so years since we met, Dave has been an important influence on my life AND a member of my family – he and my sister Chris were married a couple of years after this photo. They raised two amazing sons, my nephews Ben and Tim, together. And they have weathered more than their share of serious illness – Dave faced several bouts of cancer, culminating in a Stage IV diagnosis and a grueling experimental treatment program at M.D. Anderson in Houston (he has been cancer free since then, approximately twenty years). My sister, Chris, will have surgery on Tuesday for her second round with breast cancer.

What I want to say about Dave in this Flashback is that I couldn’t have chosen anyone better for my sister’s life companion. You know how it is with in-laws: they marry into a family like ours (big, loud, opinionated) and can spend years figuring out how not to be chewed up and spit out. Dave maintains his calm, faithful and principled presence – occasionally making us groan at his terrible puns. In the coming weeks, he will be the gentle rock upon which my sister will lean – and by virtue of his presence where we can’t be, we will all lean on him to an extent (poor guy). After more than three decades, I can  say with complete trust that he’s up to the task. I thank God, and my brother Dave, for that!