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The White Gardenia

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the lone gardenia shrub that I planted more than two years ago is finally in bloom.  Oh, oh, to smell the sweet scent of the gardenia flower!  One could say that gardenia has that truly intense fragrance which is a little better than the scent of roses.

The merry month of May usually gives us all those wonderful and beautiful flowers all around.  I remember when we were kids and still living in the province, Mom had several gardenia  shrubs planted in rows in front of our old house and every time they bloomed, we were rewarded with that heady scent that lasted throughout the day. Mom used to arrange the flowers in several makeshift vases and put them in all areas of the house.

Gardenias are smooth branched shrub that grow as high as two meters.  The leaves are about 2-6 cm. long, narrowed and are pointed at both ends.  They are shiny dark green.  The flowers are large, and occur in the upper axil of the leaves.  The white blooms last for a day or two then turn yellowish to brown before they die.  Studies show that the fruits of the gardenia seem to possess antioxidant property.

I remember this story published in the Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul.  I used to collect the Chicken Soup for the Soul series back in the late nineties.  It was shared by Marsha Arons and named the article, The White Gardenia.

Every year on my birthday, from the time I turned 12, one white gardenia was delivered anonymously to me at my house.  There was never a card or note, and calls to the florist were in vain because the purchase was always made in cash.  After a while, I stopped trying to discover the identity of the sender. i just delighted in the beauty and heady perfume of that one magical, perfect white flower nestled in folds of soft pink tissue paper.

But I never stopped imagining who the sender might be.  some of my happiest moments were spent in daydreams about someone wonderful and exciting, but too shy or eccentric to make known his or her identity. In my teen years, it was fun to speculate that the sender might be a boy I had a crush on, or even someone I didn’t know who had noticed me.

My mother often contributed to my speculations. she’d ask me if there was someone for whom I had done a special kindness, who might be showing appreciation anonymously.  She reminded me of the times when I’d been riding my bike and our neighbor drove up with her car full of groceries and children. I always helped her unload and made sure the children didn’t run into the road.  Or maybe the mystery sender was the old man across the street.  I often retrieved his mail during the winter, so he wouldn’t have to venture down his icy steps.

But there were some hurts my mother couldn’t heal. A month before my high school graduation, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. I became completely uninterested in my upcoming graduation, the senior class play and the prom – events that I had worked on and looked forward to.  My mother in the midst of her own grief, wouldn’t want me missing out on any of these things. she cared how we children felt about ourselves. she imbued us with a sense of magic in the world and she gave us the ability to see beauty even in the face of adversity.

In truth, my mother wanted her children to see themselves much like the gardenia – lovely, perfect, with an aura of magic and perhaps a bit of mystery.  My mother died when I was 22, only 10 days after I was married.  That was the year the gardenias stopped coming.

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