Secret Sunflowers

A surprise from my three daughters and me.

ILLUSTRATIONS BY HEATHER GRAHAM

My cell phone buzzed. It was the Realtor again. What will it be this time? Good news or bad?

“Hi, Betty,” I answered, bracing myself for news of another fallen contract.

“We have a closing date. Start packing!” said Betty. She knew how badly I needed to sell. This house had been my life for seven years. An affair by my partner cracked open my universe, and it was time to move on. So up went a “For Sale” sign. And in came the potential buyers.

“Oh, sweetheart,” I said. “We won’t have time to plant flowers this year.”

As much as I was ready to let go of my marriage, I struggled to let go of the home. My home. My first home. It was a new red brick Cape Cod, one-and-a-half stories tall, sitting in the middle of a gorgeous yard. Outside was where my three girls and I had enjoyed cartwheeling, playing volleyball, and planting all the landscaping ourselves. We had spent hours visiting local nurseries, browsing the rows of trees and bushes, and learning which grew in light and which in shade.

In the front of the house, we planted a weeping cherry tree. Then we planted a few fothergilla shrubs, touched by Autumn, for the cherry tree to hang out with. We invited blue princess holly shrubs to watch our family grow, a few to the left and several to the right. We added yellow daylilies for more color. Every Spring we planted different annuals than the year before, making a day of everyone picking out something she liked. When we finished, we were proud of the colorful living display we had painted around our home. Now we had to leave it all behind—a thought that had not even entered my mind until my 5-year-old daughter Madi and I were in the grocery store.

Looking for something quick and easy for supper—so we could go back to boxing up our lives—I stopped the shopping cart and reached for a can of beans.

“Look at all of those seeds!” said Madi. “This is the one I want this year.”

She was looking up at a tall rotating seed display. Standing on her toes, she plucked a packet of sunflower seeds.

“Oh, sweetheart,” I said. “We won’t have time to plant flowers this year. We have to pack up our old house and move into our new one.”

I softened my voice. “Besides, the new people who bought our home may want to plant their own flowers.”

Madi’s face fell, and she looked down at the packet of seeds. But when she lifted her eyes to mine, I could see in the way she set her chin that she had an idea.

“What if we plant the sunflower seeds in secret and don’t tell the new people? They would get a surprise when they grow!”

I relented. We could do this one last time. “OK. We’ll make time to plant secret sunflower seeds for the new people.”

Madi grinned and hugged the seed packet all the way to the register.

So instead of packing after dinner, we planted. Madison, my oldest, just entering her teens, poked holes in the ground along the fence that bordered our back yard. Madi carefully placed seeds. My middle daughter, Mackenzie, covered the seeds with dirt. They all took turns watering the surprise sunflower seeds for their new caregivers.

That Fall, while we were out and about running errands, Mackenzie said, “Hey! We should drive by our old house and see if the secret sunflowers grew. Can we?”

“Yes! Can we? I want to see!” said Madi and Madison, talking over each other.

I was curious myself. We had never tried to grow sunflowers. So we headed over to the old house. As we approached, we could see yellow suns moving in the distance by the fence, bobbing in the wind.

“They grew!” Madi exclaimed.

“I guess they’re not a secret anymore,” I said.


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