I’m not sure why peonies are my favorite flower. Maybe it’s that I grew up with floral arrangements of roses, carnations and baby’s breath so when I first saw what I thought were roses on steroids I was astonished, but more likely it’s because l knew my Chinese mother in law loved them.
I brought a bouquet of white lilies to my first mother’s day as a newly married daughter in law. She didn’t seem pleased when I handed them to her, yet was still gracious. I don’t think the arrangement ever made to a vase. Later that evening my husband told me white lilies in the Chinese tradition were considered funeral flowers to be displayed by a casket. My husband gently suggested peonies. He said they were her favorite flower.
Eighteen years later my husband died in the winter. I wanted to bring them to his memorial service but it was February and I couldn’t find a florist that had them. That spring, I planted peonies throughout my yard. They only bloom for a short period of time, and they are perhaps the most ephemeral flowers I know but I remember my mother in law saying that she looked forward to them blooming in her family’s courtyard in Shanghai every spring. And I remember my husband bringing them home every June and handing them to me with a huge smile on his face.
Maybe it’s ironic or just coincidental but my daughter’s favorite flowers are peonies. The other day she walked through the door with a beautiful smile carrying two huge bouquets of peonies. She suggested I get more so, I did. Today our house is full of peonies and the sweet remembrance of my mother in law and my husband and the ever-present love of my beautiful daughter in whom I see traces of my husband and her grandmother everyday. Yes, life and love are short and ephemeral like peonies, but when they bloom it is to be appreciated.
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