The First Story

My grandmother always used to say…

“It’s too bad people think of dandelions as weeds.  Because if we didn’t, we would recognize them as flowers.  And we would allow them to grow and spread their beauty in the world.”

Her words reverberate in my head as I read the news article that was printed in the Omaha Herald on November 14, 1979, the day following her tragic death.  My grandmother is the 56-year old victim who was killed in an intersection on her way home from some early Christmas shopping.  She had been out gathering gifts for her grandchildren.  The back of her small Pinto was filled with wrapped packages, including a small teddy bear for me, her first granddaughter.  This gift, and the gifts for her growing number of grandsons welcomed the police officers, firemen, and coroner as they arrived at the scene.  Somehow these offerings miraculously escaped the crushing impact of a front trailer that left the small Pinto utterly flattened, as evidenced by the newspaper photograph.  My grandmother’s body remained pinned for over an hour before the trailer could be lifted.  Louise Rowe was pronounced dead on sight at 5:08pm on November 13, 1979.

The open church lot across from my childhood home resurrected glorious fields of dandelions every spring and summer.  There was always something more joyous about giggling and galloping across that field during those months, when the vast green could magically turn speckled with vibrant pops of yellow.  Suddenly being assigned “the extra-left-fielder” in the neighborhood boys’ baseball game was a welcomed delight.  Their boyish banter became murmurs as I tossed my glove to the side and picked flowered bouquets of dandelions to deliver to my mother.   Cloudy days didn’t exist in that field when the dandelions were flourishing.  On a day consumed by dark skies, I could dash across the street to find a thousand rays of sunlight lying at my feet. 

I was only 2 1/2 years old at the time when my grandmother was killed.  My budding eyes and ears soaked up several vivid memories of this event in my family’s history.  I remember the uncomfortable drive from Cedar Rapids to Omaha.  I remember the frantic trip to the mall to quickly outfit all of us children for the upcoming funeral.  And I remember my own mother’s sadness.

My mother was 33 years old when she suffered the loss of her mother-in-law.  33 years old when she retrieved the phone call from a relative stating that her husband’s mother had been killed.  33 years old when she had to wait in silence for my dad to arrive home and deliver the news of his mother’s unexpected death.  33 years old.

I never quite understood why the church had hired such a ferocious groundskeeper to tend to that open field.  He always seemed so angered by the surroundings we all had been “tolerating” for the past several weeks.  I would kneel upon the couch and peer out our large picture window whenever I saw him coming.  Into the shed he would go and out he would come, perched high upon his tractor mower ready to flatten the landscape, spraying chemicals behind his horsepower.  And in an instant, it was as if the dandelions never existed.  From across the street, I would whisper goodbyes to my galloping fields, flowered bouquets, and mini-rays of sunlight and think of how saddened the church-goers would be on the upcoming Sunday to find their field so depleted of joy and happiness.  This act dampened my youthful spirit.  But I quickly learned of the dandelion’s habit of resilience. I would watch them swiftly resurface with fierceness in the following weeks, determined to be noticed.

My mother struggled to let go in the midst of helping her husband and children grieve the loss of a mother and grandmother.  She and my grandmother had developed a special bond.  One of womanhood and one of motherhood.  While strong in her own right, my mother had found comfort in knowing that she could lean upon my grandmother’s wisdom and life experience as she continued to raise me and my two older brothers.  She found herself  lost when struck with the realization that this would no longer be the case.

Through her long journey of mourning and healing, my mother recognized the importance of keeping my grandmother’s words alive.  My grandmother’s message about dandelions became my mothers’s message and she shared it with me often.  And while I made a commitment as I grew older to always admire the dandelions that spread across the fields in spring and summer, I never cherished a dandelion more than when I found one growing out of the cracks of my front doorstep…

I was 24, living in a loft on the corner of Park Ave and Larimer Street in Denver, Colorado.  It was a corner that, depending on the time of day, might be considered a little rough in nature.  It was not unusual for my mornings to begin with a request for change as I hustled out my front door.  My neighbors were the homeless.  The “kick-out” time from the shelter across the street usually coincided with my “head-out” time for work.  This particular morning was overtaken by the kind of the rain that can soak the earth and reach the deepest of roots.  It caused me to pause under the small awning that covered our street-level doorstep.  I needed a moment to tighten my raincoat and pull the hood over my head before dashing across the street to the parking lot where my car awaited me.  Suddenly, out of the cracks, grew a somewhat stifled voice.

“Gotta cigarette?,” I heard from my lower right.

“Nope, don’t smoke.”, I coldly replied with my eyes and body faced-foward.

And it was only because of the increasingly heavy rain that I paused a moment longer.  To avoid the inhumane silence, I followed up my previously shivering comment with, “Ugh.  What a dreary day.  Sure wish I didn’t have to go out in it.”

His raspy voice cropped up for a second time, “Don’t ever waste a rainy day.  There will be plenty of sunny days.  Run in it.  Enjoy it.”

I knelt down.  I touched his hand.   “You’re right,” I said.  “Thank you for reminding me.”

I slid into the seat of my car and let the gravity of the moment take hold.  I had finally been wise enough to meet my first dandelion:

A dandelion is a person whom, at first glance, you overlook with predetermined judgment and ignorance.  You resist them because they do not fit in your landscape of beauty and your first instinct is to remove them from your sight and surroundings.  

But when given a chance for a different perspective, a dandelion is that person who defies their predetermined label and shines with incredible radiance.  They ground themselves with their deep roots, bare their lion’s teeth and send you a message that can be spread for miles.

Dandelions are the unanticipated, prodigious flowers of the earth.  They are masters of survival.  And when you find one, you stop dead in your tracks because you realize how dangerously close you came to ignoring a true beauty.

I sat in my car and sobbed along with rainclouds.  I prayed that our collective tears would nourish all of the dandelions I had overlooked in my life.  My insight sprouted right there in the parking lot.  I realized that, somewhere along the way, I had abandoned my childhood nature.  I had forgotten to giggle and gallop.  I had forgotten to gather bouquets and surround my feet with rays of sunlight.  I forgot the true beauty of the dandelion as I became the ignorant groundskeeper in my own life.  I finally understood what my grandmother had been trying to tell me all along.

If you look back through history, you will discover that there was a time when dandelions were appreciated as flowers.  It was not until later that society began to deem them as a nuisance~a weed.  I find it unfortunate that we chose to begin limiting their potential.  Because when given the time to mature, a dandelion transforms into the most enchanted and miraculous being…its yellow petals develop into heads composed of tiny seeds attached to roundish, fuzzy structures shaped like parachutes. When the seeds mature, wind currents blow the head of the dandelion apart and the seeds are able to travel for miles.  You remember seeing this as a child, don’t you?  When you stood in awe of “snow” in summer?  Or when you actually served as the dandelion’s wind?  You leaned in close and exhaled.  You used your own breath to circulate new life and spread beauty.  We all experienced this as children, perhaps we have just forgotten…

Ever since that rainy morning in Denver, I have been on a search to discover all of the dandelion fields my grandmother left for me.  Every encounter with another human being is an opportunity for me to learn all of the lessons she didn’t have the time to teach me when her life was cut short on that mid-November evening.  But her words remind me that when I am too quick to judge, when I get too caught up in my own view of the world or when I allow others to alter my perceptions, I deliberately opt out of some of her most valuable lessons.  And perhaps the more devastating truth is that I run the risk of never breathing those lessons forward to another person, place, or time.  This is not a risk I am willing to take.  Not anymore.

The words from my first dandelion never left my heart.  I have always been a hopeless romantic when it comes to my love affair with humanity, and I absolutely believe that we all have the capacity to make our world a better place if we are willing to pay attention.

“It’s too bad people think of dandelions as weeds.  Because if we didn’t, we would recognize them as flowers.  And we would allow them to grow and spread their beauty in the world.”

Don’t ignore the dandelions.  Search for them.  And spread the sapience.

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