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Funny thing how blooming peonies bring back memories

June 15, 2008
By SANDY MICKELSON, Messenger staff writer
For some reason I just thought of my grandma Lyle Margaret — she’d have been 110 years old on Bastille Day, July 14. That’s her connection to France, other than that speck of French blood she insisted ran through our veins.

I never tried to find out if that were true, but her maiden name was Arnette, and that looks pretty darn French to me. It pleased her that I took French in junior college, though she refused to listen when I ’splained to her what an awful student I was.

All she ever remembered is the way some man’s face lit up when I said “bonjour monsieur” at a motel somewhere in the part of Canada populated by French. That he went on a minute-long tirade in unintelligible French — well, to me, anyway — assured her I wasn’t as awful at that language as I said.

Grandpa Chuck, on the other hand, complained loudly when I couldn’t read a road sign he blew past at 90 miles an hour. “What’s the use of bringing you along if you can’t read the signs,” he yelled at me.

“Lentement,” I snapped. “It’s says slow down.”

He never asked again.

That memory jumped into my mind when I thought of Bastille Day, but why I thought of Grandma in the first place wasn’t because of the date. No, I thought of her when I saw a note on my desk Tuesday morning that said Adrian McColley had a peony bush with more than 260 blooms on it.

Holy moly, that bush must have been pure color. At least, until the rains got to it.

McColley and his wife, Bev, moved into their home on Crest Avenue in 1988, and the peony bushes were there at the time, he said. They flank the 70 feet of driveway, with more bushes behind the house, in white, pink and red, plus white with pink tinges.

Adrian said they’ve got a lot of perennials around the house, with daisies just starting to bloom. Roses and lilies will be blooming later, and they’ve planted petunias, too.

Just thinking of flowers makes me think of Grandma Lyle Margaret. She loved flowers and had a gorgeous flower garden on top of the hill at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue South. She’s gone; the house is gone. Shoot, even the hill is gone. But while she lived there, the top of the hill smelled almost as good as it looked, what with dozens of flowers waving in the breeze. It would be good to see that again.

Which won’t happen, but I can wish. And I can remember the vacation I took with them to New England and Canada. They loved to travel, but I got to go with them just once. I felt really specia then, let me tell you.

Three things I remember right away when I remember that trip.

1. On the tip of Cape Cod, a small plane coming in for a landing at an air strip nearly scratched the top of our car.

2. Grandpa drove around Cape Cod about a million times one night because he kept missing the road to our camping spot and would not accept help. That’s even before he yelled at me because of the road signs.

3. I finally got into a nice, warm shower to wash my hair, and when I got back in the camper, Grandma lathered her hands with Grandpa’s Brylcreem and as I sat down beside her she smothered my head with the gooey stuff to give me a little glow. I gained an extra sourdough doughnut in heaven that day because I didn’t hurt her.

Hmmm. All of this because Adrian McColley has peonies in bloom. Go figure.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Contact Sandy Mickelson at (515) 573-2141 or


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