Alarmed on the First Day of Spring, Memories and Fiery Viburnums

It wasn’t the fog that swallowed our building this morning or the forecast for many-so very many-centimeters of snow later in the week, that had me alarmed on this first day of spring.

It was the apartment.

The entire building in fact.

Alarms were going off in every direction.

Today was the annual fire alarm check.

The fire inspector strides through our building with a big long stick going from apartment to apartment and then room to room pushing the alarm button on each of the three smoke detectors with his stick before heading on to the next unit.

All 51 of them.

Three alarms each.

And then there’s the entrance, the storage unit, the conference room, the game room, the exercise room, the elevator, the stairwells, the hallways and the public washrooms.

That’s a whole lot of alarms.

Once the fog lifted I left the building to escape the cacophony and went where I always head when I have nowhere I really need to be.

Dunvegan Gardens.

Just as I hoped, the greenhouse was filled with flats of new, green, growing things poking their heads up into the fresh new world. There was a feeling of renewal everywhere you turned.

I was walking around, just looking at labels and leaves, when, as so often happens these days, I had a sudden flashback.

It was a memory of the last time my mother and I came to this greenhouse together.

I had bought Mom a Dunvegan gift certificate for Christmas. She had come up that spring to stay with us for a few days, so I drove her out to the greenhouse to spend her gift.

Gift certificates to greenhouses were always the perfect go-to gift for my mother. An avid gardener, she never had any problems using them up and going to the nurseries together was something we always enjoyed.

But that spring was different.

It was the beginning of the end of her interest in gardening.  Dementia was ruthlessly making its slow, steady, inroads, stealing pieces of my mother bit by bit.

Standing there today, I felt like I had suddenly swallowed a cactus. I froze in the plant aisle, remembering how Mom had just shook her head and said she wanted to go home.

For some reason, as I tried to free myself of the memory, I looked towards a doorway that opens to the potted shrubs in season. As suddenly as the last memory enveloped me, a second, far happier one, slid into its place.

Just outside that entrance was the exact spot where, years earlier, I stood beside my mom and her cartload of plants. I was her chauffeur, taking her on a spring shopping spree. She was looking at the viburnums and lamenting how there was a particular variety she had been trying to source for years, but no one ever seemed to carry it locally, nor had she been successful in ordering from her countless plant catalogs. It seemed every time she ordered one, they were sold out.

A lady was watering plants nearby and overheard our conversation. She set down her watering wand and stepped over the hose.

“What variety were you after?” she asked.

Mom, a bit embarrassed at being overheard, told her the one she wanted.

The woman’s face lit up. “We just got half a dozen of those in last week! I think we still have a couple here somewhere.”

As Mom held her breath, the woman sorted through the shrubs and just when it seemed they had all been sold and Mom was once again out of luck, she gave a triumphant cry and pulled out a shrub with the variety indisputably written on the glossy tag.

“One left!” she said, holding it up.

As triumphant as she was, her pleasure was nothing compared to my mother’s.

So great was Mom’s excitement that she loudly exclaimed, “I could just kiss you!” causing us and everyone within earshot to burst into laughter.

Just like that, the cactus in my throat dissolves, and now I’m smiling at the memory, warmed by Mom’s unabated joy in finally finding that long coveted shrub.

When Mom left her country garden behind and moved to town, it was this same variety of viburnum that she planted on her front lawn. She always maintained that if she could only have one shrub it would be a viburnum.

They give you everything you need in one plant, she would say. And they do. Blossoms in the spring, berries in the fall and gorgeous leaves that crackle their way through the colour wheel, going from green to pink to red to orange to purple, depending on the variety.

So there I was, standing in Dunvegan, now with a big smile stuck on my face, knowing that when spring does finally arrive, I will come back and get a viburnum of my own to plant in my new garden.

As vivid as the memory was, you would think I’d remember the variety, but I don’t. Maybe it will come to me at three in the morning, and if it does I’ll let you know. I think it might have been Redwing, but I’m not sure.

If I don’t remember before their inventory of shrubs arrive, I am just going to have to riffle through the pots and rely on a sign from Mom.

I’m good with that.