It was another of the red-headed lady’s sayings. She had an endless store of them and took each one out like a treasure to be shared at the appropriate moment. This time, someone had mentioned a young couple who were having marital problems. The pair were, it seemed, no longer interested in fulfilling their vows of lifelong commitment and appeared to be headed for divorce court.
“Well,” she said matter-of-factly, “The bloom is off the rose.”
The phrase may have entered the conversation matter-of-factly, but I wasn’t about to allow it to exit the conversation in the same manner.
“What does that mean? Mama, what does the bloom is off the rose mean?”
It surely must have been a great burden to have a son who loved words so much. The questions must have been incessant. Nevertheless, I was not about to be ignored. I was not much interested in the conversation about the young couple, but I did want to know about this blooming rose.
The red-headed lady seemed exasperated at the interruption, but realizing that it was pointless to push on, addressed the question.
“It’s just a phrase that my mother used to use. I suppose it means that the initial excitement is gone and the people are losing interest in each other.”
It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, but it was all the explanation I was going to get. At the least, I understood the gist of the phrase she had used–enough so that I tried it a time or two in my conversations in the next few days. None of my friends understood the reference at all, nor did they even ask what it meant. When you’re eight years old, some things just aren’t worth the trouble in the first place. I dropped the phrase from my repertoire.
Today, nearly fifty years later, I thought about it again as a friend recounted a semi-tragic story to me. His tale centered around a man with whom he played music at one time. The fellow had come across a very desirable electric guitar which could be purchased for a tiny sum of money. For any readers who care, the guitar was a sixties-vintage gold-top Gibson Les Paul. The person who offered the guitar for sale wanted a measly fifty dollars for it. Fifty dollars! The guitar was worth, at the time, upwards of a thousand dollars (much more, today). The man purchased the beautiful instrument on the spot.
He was proud of his acumen in finding the bargain and, anxious to show the guitar off, headed for my friend’s house to participate in a jam session with his new instrument. He parked his car on the street and started up the driveway to the house. There was no case for the guitar to be carried in, but he had plans to remedy that as soon as he replenished his funds. There would be no need.
As he approached the house, he tripped over a rock in the drive. Struggling to keep his balance with the heavy guitar, he let it slip momentarily. He was quick enough to catch the body of the guitar, but the top of the head stock, at the end of the neck, smacked the pavement hard. Nearly sick to his stomach, he pulled the guitar upright again to examine the damage. There was no doubt that something was horribly amiss. The top of the neck, with its tuning machines, canted forward at an angle, and the tension on the strings exaggerated the effect. The neck was broken clear through, right at the place where the head stock flared out. Now he was sick.
The taste of victory, so sweet because of the great price he had gotten, had quickly turned sour in his mouth. Oh, he soon had the neck repaired and the guitar played adequately, even serving him for several more years, but somehow it just wasn’t quite the same. My friend tells me that the man never was able to get over the disappointment of breaking the beautiful instrument before he even had a chance to play it with his friends.
The bloom was off the rose.
My mother’s words came back to me in a flood, as my friend told me the story. But, I remembered the context of her words and then thought about the difference in the two situations. As much as I hate to say it, she wasn’t applying the meaning correctly. While it applies quite well in the case of the guitar, itself a completely inanimate object, with the disappointment and the inability to ever again achieve the pristine condition it once had, the phrase was never intended to apply to relationships with people.
I’ve spent some time in research tonight, word nerd that I am, and I realize that the phrase never meant that the blossom has been separated from the plant. The bloom that is referred to is the sheen, the life, that vivid color that gives the rose its beauty. The bloom signifies vitality–longevity.
When we acquire a possession, it is inevitable that the bloom will fade. Somehow though, it never fails to surprise me. That item, whether it be a painting, or a piece of furniture, or even an automobile, is stunning in its beauty to begin with. I want to sit and take it in; I want to fuss at the grandchildren to keep their feet off of the material; I have to walk out to the garage to polish the surface for just a minute. The surprise comes months later, when I realize that it just hangs on the wall, another framed decoration. I see the children standing on it and playing king-on-the-mountain and merely smile. I see another nick on the door in the Walmart parking lot and only shrug.
The bloom is off the rose.
I sit and think for a moment and I have it!
Our relationship with people, be it a spouse, our parents, or our friends, is not a single rose. No. A single rose is doomed to wilt, to lose its appeal, to die and be gone. People, along with our relationships with them, are the entire garden.
The entire garden.
In the garden, change is always happening. Buds are developing, overgrowth is being cut away, cultivation is taking place. Each season, more beauty is seen, as the garden is tended. Every year, the anticipation is greater, as the display grows more and more spectacular.
Do the individual blossoms lose their initial outer beauty? Is there disappointment as the astounding glory of this season passes? I would lie if I said no. The petals wilt and fall, the leaves drop to the ground. There is sadness, there is regret. But, there is always the knowledge that more is yet to come, that the beauty of the next season will almost certainly surpass what has come before.
The seeds of the blossoms from past years drop, along with the petals and the leaves, and guarantee the splendor that will be. True–the garden must be cared for, must be tended to continue, but there is never a time when it is less important, less rewarding. Blossoms or no, the garden lives.
Do I have on rose-colored glasses (pun intended)? Am I hopeless in my optimism for the future? Maybe, just a little. I have seen it with my own eyes, though. I have wandered through such gardens.
I have seen friendships which last for a lifetime; I have seen brothers and sisters live in harmony through long years; I have seen marriages that do not come to unhappy ends, the principals disappointed and disillusioned with the rose they have plucked from the garden. Husbands and wives do learn to tend to the garden, rather than selfishly demanding a beautiful rose to sit in their vase, never wilting or losing color. The grace of old lovers who still show the beauty of their living, growing relationship is unmistakable and something to be emulated.
It was no coincidence, I think, that when God chose an image so mankind could remember His intent for all creation, He put His creatures in a garden. He put them there to tend the garden and care for it.
It’s still what we’re supposed to be doing today. Look around.
The garden plot stretches out as far as the eye can see.
Oh! I forgot to tell you. There are a few thorns in the garden too. You’ll have to figure them out on your own. I’m guessing you can handle that.
I’ve had to suck on my finger a time or two, also.
“Every time I’ve held a rose, it seems I only felt the thorns.
And so it goes, and so it goes.”
(from “And So It Goes” ~ Billy Joel ~ American singer/songwriter)
“There is hope for the future because God has a sense of humor and we are funny to God.”
(Bill Cosby ~ American comedian/author)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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