If I Were a Peony was the first of my analogical musings. During a Sunday afternoon meandering the South Carolina Botanical Gardens with Mama Sue, some flora is worth further consideration, and so is some counsel that was not your garden variety.
Last week was perhaps the best teacher’s appreciation week ever. Every day, new gifts popped up on my desk. Seeds to plant in my garden, blue slippers, a notebook covered in butterflies and flowers, and an oversized coffee mug of similar design. My coworkers know me well. Give me a landscape speckled with blossoms and a cup of coffee, and my creative juices just go.
It’s why I always write outside. I’d love a screened-in porch like Mama Sue’s husband Durwood engineered for her. The pair are my brother’s in-laws, but I’ve been adopted since my move to the area last summer. I call them my Pickens parents and recently started attending their church, abandoning the hunt for the perfect congregation in favor of sitting with family, together in one row.
My Pickens parents took me to lunch after church on Sunday at the Big Clock for a meat and three. I tried calabash chicken for the first time. They know all the best restaurants within a 45-minute drive and Mama Sue likes to ensure I experience everything I should while I live in South Carolina.
In a couple months, I’ll be back in Hampton Roads, I suspect. Maybe that’s why after I got home from lunch, Mama Sue called to let me know she was going to pick me up and take me to the botanical gardens at Clemson University. I’d knocked out my story on Saturday for my publisher before deadline, testing the limits of my hand after my first trigger thumb surgery last Tuesday. The afternoon was wide open.
And honestly, I’ll take any time I can get with Mama Sue. She’s proof that when things happen that make you feel like someone is listening in on your phone calls, that Someone is, and God often appoints Mama Sue to deliver because she’s always praying for me.
Opting to hit the pause button on my teaching career and pursue writing full time has created uncertainty and excitement, emotions I frequently experience at the same time. Mama Sue doesn’t advise me on my next steps, but she shares whatever nuggets of wisdom that have been cemented in her mind during times of prayer. She listens and asks questions.
The botanical gardens did not disappoint. Mama Sue could typically tell me the name of the various plants without looking at the name plaques. The rhododendrons boasted hues of pink my mother favors in her garden and wardrobe, and I recognized them from walks with Cari, Mama Sue’s daughter, around their neighborhood in Greenville.
I’d known the Laurel until now only as my namesake. Growing up, I had a name plaque, too. It said I was a crown of beauty. A crown of laurels was given to victors, historically. The title “poet laureate” is bestowed to a writer to affirm his eminence, a victory crown for battles won with the pen.
But these were Mountain Laurels, sprawling in color palates I’d never witnessed. They grow in Virginia, but they are less frequent in the coastal region where I intend to return. Savoring their beauty in the gardens with Mama Sue, I considered her story of healing in her book Gathering Manna. Her life is a victory crown, a breathing testimony of a life living by faith and experiencing a miracle. Had the Lord not healed her, I wouldn’t be walking with her in the garden.
And walking with her feels a bit like walking with the Lord. I noticed that all the undercarriage of the garden was covered with needles that reminded me of a pine equivalent to Spanish Moss. Naturally, we looked up to see the canopy of towering Longleaf Pine trees. A hundred feet in the air, these pine trees lose their needles and they leave an impression on everything new that’s growing.
Mama Sue saw the symbolism. We leave a legacy with each encounter, and it is far reaching. What’s in that legacy? If I consider 16 years in the classroom, I’m a lot like that pine tree, shedding bits of wisdom in grammar, voice, and style, and that impact has been far reaching. Thousands of students have studied under my care learning to become better writers.
I just wonder what impact I’d have if we change the undercarriage from students to readers. It takes living by faith to piecemeal copywriting and proofreading gigs together with enough articles to thrive as a writer. Mama Sue is proof that anything is possible with prayer, and though she won’t tell me what to do next about my career, walking with her in the garden told me what to do now: pray.
The plant that most excited me on our excursion was the Hybrid Tea Rose. The bush grows two types of flowers. Apparently, it was created in France in the 1800s by crossing the hybrid perpetual rose with the tea roses we see in flower arrangements. Each rose was called separately by another name, but the DNA could be altered so that one bush could grow two types of flowers.
Will I be a Mountain Laurel, a Longleaf Pine, or a Hybrid Tea Rose in my next career venture? I’m settling on the Hybrid Tea Rose this morning before heading in for my second trigger thumb surgery. I need healthy hands to write. I’ve blossomed in the classroom with vibrant growth, petals of one kind. I also think there’s a writer in my DNA that’s begging for a chance to grow a different flower.
Laurel is literally in my name, a crown for a victor. Mama Sue reminds us all who the Victor is. Since I’ve gone by Laura Joy, I would always joke that I’m a joyful crown of beauty. I pray that it will be so, whatever uncertain or exciting ventures come next.