The former principal of our former grade school (did you follow that?) sent me this beautiful picture.
These are peonies from the garden of the famous Ms. Rooney. And, as Dolly Parton says in the movie Steel Magnolias, there’s a story there.
Have you seen Steel Magnolias? This 1989 movie is one of my all-time favorites. I quote it frequently, especially when I am with my mother and sister. The character development and dialogue are something special. If you don’t have the pleasure of having friends from Louisiana, let me confirm that this movie is spot on. There really are people like this in the world.
But, I digress. This blog post is about peonies. And the great Ms. Rooney.
Ms. Rooney taught 3 1/2 of my children. Josephine is the 1/2 as we moved over Christmas break and halfway through the school year. It was brutal for all of us. We had been involved with this school for 10 years and it was home. I vividly remember the day I picked up our five school-age children for the last time.
I had a hamster running loose in the van, Mary Frances squirming in her car seat, and a snowstorm threatening in the sky. Already tight on time to make the house closing, I just couldn’t make myself leave. Our dear principal was the last to say goodbye. She embraced me for a long time as I wept at the front door. She told me I could handle the move and reminded me that we would always have the community’s support. And then she told me it was time to go and gently pushed us out of the nest. I am crying as I type this. It was one of those profound moments in my life when another person carried me and moved me forward.
Again, I digress. Back to the flowers. And the fabulous Ms. Rooney.
Ms. Rooney has been teaching 3rd grade for over 40 years. She can size-up a child’s heart at 20 paces and knows just how to reach into that heart and bring forth its best effort. She has profound insights into parenting and child development. Our world would be better off if Ms. Rooney were in charge. But her life’s mission is to transform the lives of 20+ children and families per year. She’s knows her place in the world and has embraced her calling. She is a legend.
She also grows fabulous peonies. I forget when I started talking to Ms. Rooney about peonies. There were usually more pressing things to discuss about my children, such as Greta’s abysmal spelling. I have a vague memory of seeing a vase of these flowers on her desk. I was surprised to learn that one could grow peonies in the yard. I thought you found them only at the Jewel.
With Ms. Rooney’s encouragement I decided to plop several of these plants into the ground and try my luck. I remember the spring of 2013. The plants were growing beautifully and there were dozens of tightly formed buds sprouting all over. I remember telling Ms. Rooney that I anticipated quite a harvest. I imagined fresh flowers all over the house. Perhaps I would invite Martha Stewart to tea.
And then Mary Frances appeared at the back door one afternoon. Smile wide. Hands behind her back. She had a surprise for me. She opened those chubby hands and my peony buds came crashing to the floor. Dozens of perfectly formed buds bounced all over the kitchen like little rubber balls. My dreams of a spring harvest were shattered.
I told Ms. Rooney the story the next day. And she laughed. Because she gets kids. And peony plants. Apparently, Mary Frances had done me a favor. By picking the buds before they opened, she had inadvertently sent energy back into the plant. Ms. Rooney promised me the 2014 display would be a sight to behold.
Unfortunately, we moved before that next spring. I never saw my peony plants again.
But every spring, the neighborhood peonies mock me. Everywhere I look, these brightly colored gems dot lawns and decorate gardens.
I haven’t planted anymore peonies. Perhaps I never will. There is a lesson for me in these lovely plants. And every spring I remember this story and thank God for the influence of a dear teacher. As a mother, my life’s work is to prepare my children for an unknown future. Hopefully their lives will bloom and enhance the world around them with beauty. But my work is much like Ms. Rooney’s. I plant a harvest that I may never see. And sometimes the flowery show has to be delayed to save energy for a greater future.
I learned this lesson from a 3rd grade teacher, a toddler, and a perennial. So I no longer think of these plants as peonies.
I call them Roonies.