Swing low, sweet compact car

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I don’t remember whose idea it was to climb into a tiny, strange car in the middle of the night and drive around Boulder, Colorado looking for flowers to steal. On our direction, the driver would stop and several of us, all students, bolted to the flower beds that lined the streets in a posh section of town. We tore stems, dozens at a time, free. By the time we decided we’d gathered enough, we were buried under piles of irises, peonies, daisies, zinnias, snapdragons.

Once home, we dumped our haul onto our long, scratched, fiftieth-hand dining room table. They smelled incredible, filling our dank little rental house on The Hill with the wheeze of tender summer, just beginning to unroll. We didn’t own vases or containers that hadn’t or wasn’t currently holding alcohol. One of my roommates gathered beer bottles and we snapped off the ends of stems to make them fit so they wouldn’t tip over. The flower to beer bottle ratio was about 5:1, so many of the glorious blooms wilted within days. They were eventually booted to the alley for someone to pick up.


It’s morning in an old large brick house. A woman glances out her bedroom window at the Flatirons, illuminated orange by a rising sun. The cool air streaming through the screen carries the scent of Russian olive blossoms. She inhales the sweet toffee-like air and it stirs thoughts of breakfast. She pulls on a cardigan and tiptoes down stairs. She passes a massive window facing the street and stops. Her throat catches and she blinks, squints, and sighs as she opens the front door, soft-boiled egg and coffee forgotten.

Her flowers are gone.

Just last night, she pulled the green hose down to the edge of the yard and misted the leaves and ground. It had been a hot day and she wanted to give them one last drink before bed. She watched droplets grow on petals, reflecting the lights skimming the stone walkway. When her children were small, she read stories every evening. With them grown and gone, she told stories to these new frilly-faced ones, thriving in their one and only summer. Sometimes she envied her troupe of flowers, delicate but hearty enough to withstand sun and rain and night.

Some things can’t be survived.


I live in a small two-story house with many people. I don’t have views of mountains from my bedroom window, nor do I have a handy Russian olive to engulf me in childhood memories each early June. I don’t have to walk far to find either of those things, however.

I do have flowers in my front yard. They are planted in a dirt border carved out between the driveway and the lawn. One contingent surrounds the mailbox. There are tulips and crocus in the spring, irises in late May and early June, peonies in early June, and asters in late summer. I can’t imagine anyone driving by and tearing them out. Who would do such a thing?

Sometimes, when I check the mail, I half-expect to see torn stalks and stems; a one and only summer cut cruelly short.


My dad had more Russian olive trees than he knew what to do with. He planted them from twigs when I was young and because they are basically weeds, they grew wildly and took over. When they were mature, they began to produce tiny yellow flowers for a week every early summer. The scent is delicious. It’s warm, sweet, nutty, buttery. If it could be gathered into candied morsels, the White Witch would have enchanted Edmund with it instead of waving Turkish delight under his nose.


Over the years, my dad chopped down all the Russian olives except for one, which is near the driveway. It’s enormous. Branches arc over the driveway, turning the mundane suburban garage door into a magical portal. My parents hate it because the blossoms, when they drop, are messy. Someone has to get out the big broom and sweep them down into the gutter to be carried away by an eventual rare rain.

They talk about chopping it down, which would be a hateful thing in my estimation. It’s too beautiful. We sat under it when my dad set off fireworks in the street every July 4th. That scent would be lost. Wouldn’t you miss the scent? I demand to know when conversation turns toward that trash tree.

Sure, they admit. But it only smells good for a week anyway.


My dad’s health has taken a sudden and alarming downturn. He’s confused, has no appetite, and is on oxygen. He can’t walk without pain or gasping for air. He’s seen his doctor, who says it’s related to his lung disease associated with nearly 60 years of smoking. Here, have some more medicines. Take these pills, and these, and these. Pose for a chest x-ray, give us your arm for some blood, and we’ll see you on Monday.

I am bracing for the day I wake up and see my garden smaller. The biggest bloom out there, harvested in the night. Swing low, sweet compact car. I am bracing for the day that scent will be chopped away. I’m mindful of a rally in his health. Maybe they’ll find the perfect pill or all our prayers for restoration—for more time, for another summer—will be granted. I’m a fan of sparing even though once upon a time I was greedy for fun at the expense of another.

It struck me, though. If that Russian olive tree in my parent’s front yard is chopped down, my dad will not be the one to do it.

I wish he were strong enough to vanquish something I hold dear.  For that, I’d be the first to kiss it goodbye.

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