"A dollyflod spring is dessert after a Brussels sprouts winter!" That's what my Grans said every year as we planted dollyflods--what everyone else called daffodils. Some winters are a little more bitter than others, she said, but that just makes the spring all the more sweet.
In this short contemporary story from award-winning author Sarah M. Anderson, we're reminded that even in times of darkness and loss, there's still hope.
Content warning: This short story includes daffodils, the loss of a grandparent, and growing up.
April 2020 | ISBN: 978-1941097632
“Dollyflods are the Good Lord’s gift, like chocolate chip cookies.” With her helmet of blue hair safely tucked beneath a wide straw hat Momma had given her for her birthday once, Grans fished out another bulb out of the mud-coated bucket she kept close to her side and kept going. She always kept going. “A dollyflod spring is dessert after a Brussels sprouts winter!”
I didn’t know what she meant. I can remember not liking Brussels sprouts, and I must have figured it meant dollyflods were just yellow chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t have been more than three, but even today I can remember that taste, like old onions mixed with dirt. Grans told that story every fall as we planted next spring’s dollyflods, dirt smudged on her cheeks. She got a big kick out of it, her chest heaving with joy as she plunked another bulb into the ground, sprinkled it with fertilizer, and mounded dirt on top with the same spade her Hubert had gotten her on her first Mother’s Day, all the way back in 1934.
Grans planted dollyflods every year. Her gardens erupted into sudden flurries of yellows, oranges, whites, and pinks; dollyflods with heads no bigger than a nickel and dollyflods with trumpets the size of a baseball; simple dollyflods with one graceful head on a long, elegant stem, and robust dollyflods with more frills than a petticoat. Every year, another hybrid would come out, and she dug up another small patch of ever-dwindling yard.
People came from four towns over to see her gardens when they were in full bloom every May. Once, a reporter came all the way out from the Springfield Register and wrote a story about “The Bulb Lady.” In the picture that went with it, you can just see my head peeking out from behind the profusion of flowers, holding Grans’ hand. Momma said it was her proudest moment, her two joys in the paper together.
To hear Momma tell it, Grans had been talking about dollyflod springs and Brussels sprouts winters since Momma was a baby girl, and probably since Grans had been a baby planting them with her grandmother. Momma said she once asked Grans where the word “dollyflod,” came from, since I’d found out Grans’ name was really Hazel, not Dolly.
“Just always been that way,” Momma said Grans replied. “Every since I was knee-high to a puppy.”
I was certainly no nearer to a puppy’s knees when Grans first started me off in her garden. Grans swooped me up every morning and brought me back every evening, my frilly pants and sweet dresses caked with dirt on the bottom.
Each and every fall, she put hundreds and hundreds of onion-skinned bulbs into the grounds so that, around spring, everyone would remember why they were alive. When she ran out of space in the little house she’d lived in for forty years, she started digging them up, dividing the clumps, and putting half back in. The other half were carted off to our farm house, or her friends’ houses, or anyplace that she thought could use “a dab of color,” which was most any place in Beaufort, really.
Every year was the same, as far back as I can remember. Riding the tractor with Daddy as he plowed the fields in the spring while Grans filled every vessel she could with all her dollyflods. A summer of me watching the plants grow, and of Grans watching me grow, too. And a fall spent with Grans kneeling on that old cushion her Hubert had salvaged from the Hotel Beaufort where he’s worked every day of his life to save her knees because, as Grans would say, “They were his favorite part.”
I guess there was a time I didn’t spend every single day with Grans, but that part I don’t remember. I was probably barely walking when the Brussels sprouts winters proved too long for Momma. Soon enough, she had a daytime job and I was with Grans. Our time was filled with homemade cookies and tea parties where we bit the tips off red jelly beans and rubbed them on our lips until our mouths were unnatural shades of maroon and then drank tea out of her wedding china with our pinkies curled while we said, “Oh, ta!” until we were blue with the giggles.
I couldn’t see what about winter made it as bad as Brussels sprouts. Grans and I wiled away the time between the last planting and the first bloom by watching soap operas and reading stories—not regular kid stories, but the kind Grans liked. Her Hubert had gotten Grans a leather-bound classic every year for her birthday, and she wasn’t about to let thirty-seven volumes of fine literature go to waste. So we floated the Mississippi with Huck and dodged Fagan beside Oliver, with Grans doing a different voice for each person. When I learned how, she let me read some of the parts, giving me a nickel when I got a five-dollar word right. “Just a down payment,” she said as we put the coin in the piggy bank.
By the time the first bud had unfurled into the glory that is a dollyflod in early spring, Grans was outside in her house slippers, kneeling on that ancient cushion, breathing in the smell of wet earth and spring pollen. “Oh, Hubert,” she said every year, her voice shaky as she prayed to the man who’d gone on two years before I was born, “I made it through another Brussels sprouts winter without you.” It was the only time I ever saw her cry.