Holly Hawks

"Here," she said, thrusting a lumpy envelope into my hands. "Take your seeds."

I glanced down at her offering. It was standard letter-sized, with Holly Hawks scrawled across the front in her spindly handwriting, a script I'd recognize anywhere. Hollyhock seeds. The gift made me smile. I had forgotten that I'd even asked for these starts of the tall, leafy stalks with their vibrant crepe-paper flowers, the ones that lined the back of her house like summer sentinels. "I'll collect you some seeds," Grandma had promised. As always, she was true to her word. Even if I hadn't remembered, I should have known she would.

I meant to plant them in the spring. I had the perfect place for them: along one unadorned stretch of bare gray siding. But life got in the way, and the pebbly envelope remained stuffed in my kitchen's junk drawer, the seeds lying dormant within their paper casing. A packet of unfulfilled potential.

In the fall, during one of our regular morning phone chats, the conversation turned to flowers. It was one of the subjects on which I trusted Grandma implicitly. When it came to growing things, sewing things, preserving things, or frying a damn good chicken, you couldn't find a more knowledgeable source than my rural Arkansas-raised granny. The backwoods Martha Stewart.

"I never did get those hollyhock seeds planted," I admitted sheepishly. "Guess now I'll have to wait until next spring."

"Naw," she said in her Southern drawl. "Just plant 'em now! They'll come right up once the weather gets warm again."

I was skeptical as I loosened the dirt along the south side of my house later that afternoon, but figured I'd give it a shot. I opened up the Holly Hawks envelope and scattered its contents haphazardly throughout the cool black soil. Then I kicked some dirt back over them, thinking I'd just about guarantee the need for more seeds once these failed to detonate into real-live flowers.

The leaves fell. The snow fell. And finally, after the icy sludge of late winter had melted, the world changed from gray to green. But the expansive stretch of ground over which I'd sewn the seeds remained blank. And after every other flower in the neighborhood had burst into bloom, I still had a patch of dirt. Grandma had been mistaken (or at least overly optimistic) about planting the seeds in the fall, or I'd just done it incorrectly; either way, there were no hollyhocks to be had.

The patch was still bare the next spring when Grandma died, tragically, unexpectedly. It was sudden, and it was devastating, and it chewed up and spit out my May and my June and my sense that all was right with the world. I grieved so hard at first that there are parts of those months I don't even remember, endless days colored gray. There would be no more of her sage advice, even though I wasn't done asking the questions. And there would be no one to lovingly gather replacements for the seeds I'd failed to grow.

My Grandma was gone.

But early that summer, maybe a month after her passing, I noticed something: a few tenuous sprouts poking through the dirt. And soon, as if by magic, or perhaps some sort of otherworldly intervention, my hollyhocks were flourishing. Before long, I had a whole wall of slender green stalks and newly unfurled leaves. I loved to think that they'd been helped along by my Grandma, coaxed to life by her nurturing spirit. They bore no flowers - there would be none for the rest of the summer - but I was thrilled that something had grown.

My hollyhocks came up right on time this spring, their third year in the ground. But though they were taller and sturdier this season, with plentiful bright-green foliage, they still were just leaves and stalks.

Until two days ago.

We were coming home from the grocery store, and as we turned into our driveway, my eyes settled on the hollyhocks alongside the house - as they nearly always do. This time was different, though: I caught sight of something pink amid the line of emerald green. I practically hurtled out of the car to inspect them more closely, and sure enough, they were blooming! Familiar, delicate blossoms of light and dark pink and vibrant ruby.  I was ecstatic.

I would've celebrated the appearance of the flowers whenever they'd arrived, but the day they chose to bloom was especially meaningful: it was Grandma's birthday. She would have been 87.

If I ever doubted she was watching over me - and my hollyhocks - I don't any more.

Thanks for the help, Grandma.


  1. And now I'm crying. I had a grandmother just like that. I need her right now to tell me how to put up the extra tomatoes from our garden. I have no idea who to call, and even if I did I wouldn't want to.

  2. What a sweet story - that really is wonderful. And your flowers are beautiful!

  3. Wow, I have goosebumps. They are so pretty.

  4. Priceless story. You had me choked up there. What gorgeous flowers. I'm going to have to plant some of my own.

  5. This post is beautiful, and made me cry. And, the holly hawks are seriously awesome. I think I should plant some. This fall. Because your granny clearly knew what was up.

  6. This was a very true story and reading it brought tears to my eyes! Last year the month of May and June is one big blur to me also, but I still feel that Grandma is looking out for us and always will. I love you sis and if you every need anymore hollyhock seeds you know where you can get them because they are up and beautiful like they were for Grandma! I really do miss her but she is our angel in heaven looking down on us and smiling! :)

  7. That is seriously the most awesome thing EVER! Loved the post, loved the sentiment, loved the beautiful pics, LOVED IT ALL! I'm so happy for you that they bloomed and in such a meaningful way. Hooray for those looking out for us from above.

  8. What an amazing story! Those flowers are gorgeous!

  9. That just gave me major chills. More than once. So special.

  10. Grandma's still doing what she always did best - nurturing flowers and people. I miss her, too, but she's never very far away.....

  11. Your Grandmother sounds like a lovely woman. You have painted an amazing tribute to her, made me tear up and smile. She left you such a awesome blessing in her fowers. Wonderful writing!! As always love reading you.

  12. What a story! So incredible!!!

  13. Whoo - the hair is up on my arms! That is an amazing story. It's like when my mom died in March last year; the day of her funeral I was at her house and her iris' had bloomed full out - a month and a half earlier than when they should. They didn't do it this year.

  14. Awwww you truly brought tears to my eyes on this one! And the hollyhocks are very pretty!

  15. Wow, so sweet! Even though this post is from forever ago it just made my day, thank you. I hope they are still blooming!


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