WHY ROSES ARE THE SWEETEST KIND OF LOVE IN MY FAMILY
The Franklins ©Deb Trotter©
This post is the first in another one of my blog categories: The Love of Family and Friends. It was only in the last ten or fifteen years that I came to realize how important my family is to me. How much they loved me. How much I love them.
In the above photo are my Franklin relatives on my Daddy's side. His mother (my fraternal grandmother) was named Margaret, though her friends and family called her Maggie. (Maggie is the little blond girl, second from bottom right) She married Luther Graham Branch, my grandfather, when she was only thirteen years old.
Thirteen - and married! I know. It's hard for me to imagine too. Could you truly understand love at the age of thirteen? There's a compelling story there.
At any rate, the whole Branch family adored Maggie for her sweet disposition and kindness. Mawmaw, as some of her grandchildren called her, was the most selfless, generous soul I have ever known. I loved her as if she were my own mother, and she helped raise me. She was that important and special to me. But more on Margaret (Maggie) Branch some other time.
On the top row (second from the left) is my Great Grandmother, Cora, whose maiden name was Cook. I loved her fiercely, even though she scared me a bit. She possessed the spirit of a queen and demanded strict, unadulterated loyalty, which we all gave to her in spades. She was like our own Queen Victoria, and we treated her as if she, too, were royalty.
Cora's home always fascinated me. It was a pristine white, little Victorian house and was the epitome of the vintage Victorian stereotype you might imagine. A big living room with lace curtains and doilies on the velvet furniture and a nice big kitchen, complete with a wood stove and Hoosier cabinet (with a metal flour bin and sifter, and two glass doors, not to mention a white porcelain work station.)
There were two bedrooms upstairs, one bathroom in the downstairs hallway, a small, serviceable dining room, and one bedroom downstairs, which was Cora's. That bedroom held such allure to a little girl like me, There was a huge white iron bed, a washstand and pitcher (which seemed odd, since Cora had running water in the bathroom and kitchen), and a small oak dresser where she hung her pearl jewelry by the big oval mirror.
But the best thing about my Great Grandmother Cora's bedroom was the smell. Roses! The moment you walked into that room you were overwhelmed with that scent, as if you were standing in a ten-acre field of nothing but roses everywhere, and you could roll around in the roses like taking a bath in a in rose bubbled claw foot tub. My aunts found the scent of a gazillion roses cloying and hated going in Cora's bedroom. Not me, though.
I was drawn to the earthy sweetness like a hummingbird is to red Columbines and Peonies. I couldn't get enough of it. Surely, I thought, none of my friends had experienced something as wonderful. There was a simple secret to that sweet smell. Although there were no rose bouquets, there were oodles of little glass and china containers, each one filled with dried red roses. How many years might she have collected those flowers, I wondered.
Those little bottles, cups, and glass boxes were everywhere. On the two doily-covered dressers by her bed. On the washstand beside her handmade soap. On the lace handkerchief topping the little mirrored dresser with the pearl necklaces. Inside the drawers, tied up in elfin-like sachets. Under her crisply ironed pillowcases embroidered with - what else? - miniature roses. There were likely more dried roses that I didn't see - the clothing cupboard, perhaps? To this day I still dream of that bedroom. It was magical.
What made Cora's bedroom even more intriguing was the it was off limits to us children. You had to be invited into the bedroom by Cora herself, and the invitation usually happened only as a reward - or on your birthday. Did you help set the table, clear the dishes, scrape, and wash them? Maybe you were recruited to help make the pies, or were asked to watch the hourglass once the pies were placed in the oven. Should you perform any of these tasks or a few others perfectly and without complaint, there was a chance you might receive an invitation after dinner to visit her bewitching bedroom.
Only one great grandchild was invited, though. The competition was fierce. Which one of us impressed Great Grandmother Cora the most that night? Was it my brother, who was so devoted to that hourglass that he stood before it, staring at it the whole time? Was it my cousin, Dickie, who was without a doubt the most polite one out of the seven of us cousins, and was especially good at bringing in firewood from the shed out back? Or maybe it was me, who loved helping make apple pies - especially decorating the sides of those pies by making scalloped ridges out of the dough with a small spoon?
The amazing thing about that bedroom (and the way all of us clamored to be the one to visit it) was how loved we felt upon entering it. It was gentile, like being in an old fashioned garden á la Jane Austen and being served tea by Alice in Wonderland, and Great Grandmother Cora sat in for the Queen of Hearts. Only, she was a good queen and didn't squeal "Off with her head!" Instead, she became a soft-spoken, ethereal matriarch - our family's most loved grande dame. And we loved her for it.
(More on Great Grandmother Cora and her storytelling in another post. Be sure and come back!)