Rutherwood; or, Life on the Run (7/19) — Chapter Seven, Boutonniere (3/3)

EVEN AS WINTER APPROACHES, symbols of spring like this dandelion can unexpectedly present themselves against the worst odds.


MORGANTON, N.C. (Dec. 1, 2019) – “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

I didn’t plan for this book to be a devotional, but that seems to be what it’s becoming—in these pages falling after the growing season, anyway, when flowers are as dead as the leaves in our driveway. I also didn’t expect to be quoting Saul of Tarsus on the first Sunday of Advent, as I do today in the Bible verse above. I’ve never really been a fan.

Why not? Well, let’s not get into that right now, okay? Maybe in early April toward the end of Lent and before the Masters golf tournament when we’re all in better moods, I’ll spill the beans. Discussing Saul’s views on certain controversial subjects would be more tolerable later than now at the outset of the Yuletide Season.

I mean, we just got through that big family get-together at Thanksgiving without strangling old Uncle Paulie for his usual judgmental, misogynistic and homophobic remarks, so why risk ruining other holiday revelries? Fussing and fighting over stuff is out of place this time of year. We should promote faith, hope and love.

THE MANUFACTURER SAYS this roasted dandelion root tea is good for the liver and digestive system. Hopefully we’ll get some dandelion herb (greens) from the seed.

But I’ve always liked the thirteenth chapter—all 13 verses—of this long letter to the Christian church at Corinth, an ancient Greek city whose mythic history includes notable characters such as King Sisyphus, the original rock ‘n’ roller; Jason, captain of the Argonauts, of Golden Fleece fame; Medea (no, not that Medea), the scorned woman who murdered her and Jason’s children; and, of course, mother-loving Oedipus, Corinth’s adopted favorite son who, on a chariot ride to neighboring Thebes, killed that city’s king in a fit of road rage, then solved a tough riddle, killed a monster, became king himself, and wed the dead king’s old queen.

Just as I didn’t give away the endings of those Greek myths, I won’t spoil your reading of 1 Corinthians 13 by going into too much detail right now. However, in addition to the one verse I quoted earlier, the chapter defines love and discusses its importance above all else. Certain verses from this chapter often are used in wedding ceremonies, though I’m pretty sure that the letter writer isn’t just talking about love between a husband and wife, or between a son and his father and mother—not in Chapter 13, anyway.

So what does growing up—the focus of 1 Corinthians 13:11—have to do with love of any kind? In 13 verses about “The Excellence of Love,” as my New American Standard Bible labels it, why would old Saul advise the Christians in Corinth to stop being childish and start acting like adults? Those are good questions, and maybe I shouldn’t take anything for granted. Maybe I shouldn’t analyze that one verse out of context. Maybe I should wait until I’ve read the whole letter that Saul wrote to those poor folks.

But we do take so much of the Bible out of context as we try to convince others to believe as we want them to—or maybe to justify our own behavior or that of others we care about. And maybe we shouldn’t.

By now you’re probably wondering what childishness has to do with dandelions and boutonnières—or maybe you’ve figured me out. And maybe a little yellow dandelion was your first buttonhole flower, too, when you were a child.

About two weeks ago, Timberley and I were getting into the Gray Goose, and I happened to look over at the raised flower bed encircled by our driveway in front of the house. It’s what used to be our house’s front yard when Timberley was a child, back before her father decided he’d rather spread mulch once a year than mow grass each week. The other day, that flower bed was dead—except for a lone dandelion.

We both were amazed to see that little yellow dandelion on November 15, after three straight mornings of frost. I’d been planning to write about dandelions but not until next spring. When I made that plan, I bought some dandelion root tea and made myself a cup. I also ordered, against the advice of my darling wife, the gardener of the family, two packs of dandelion seed to sow next spring. Hey, hey, be nice now, and don’t laugh. Be kind.

It isn’t what you think. I’m not going to scatter dandelion seed willy-nilly in our yards and take a chance on the tough little flowers spreading to our neighbors’ manicured lawns. We have really good neighbors at both of our houses, on and off the mountain. I assured Timberley just yesterday—when she spied me fondling those dandelion seed packets—that I fully intend to construct two screen-covered raised beds, one for each house. She said our neighbors wouldn’t forgive me for sharing my dandelions with them.

Even though the dandelion is perhaps the only flower on earth that is entirely edible—every single part of it, from taproot to greens to petals—our neighbors probably wouldn’t appreciate the simple flower as I do. They probably wouldn’t want to spend as much time as Timberley did last spring pulling them up.

I like all our neighbors and even love one, in particular, who has been an indispensable friend over the past two-and-a-half years since Timberley’s surgery and first hospitalization. That neighbor took care of our two kittens while we were away, brought me things I needed at the local emergency room, and even drove the Gray Goose to Charlotte with her hubby after our ambulance trip to Carolinas Medical Center had stranded us there without a vehicle. She, her husband, and her son have treated us like their family.

Last December, after everything they’d done, they even gave us a Christmas present—a gift card to the Marquee Cinemas Mimosa 7 in Morganton. So the very last thing I want to do is give them a lawn full of dandelions—the gift that keeps on giving. In that regard, I want to treat my neighbors better than my own self by keeping those dandelions from becoming puffballs and floating into my neighbors’ yards. If my feathery seeds were to fly and take root, it certainly would not be a beautiful day in our neighborhoods.

After all, I’m not Mr. Fred Rogers. That was the movie we finally used last year’s Christmas gift to see this past weekend. I won’t spoil the story if you haven’t seen A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood yet, but I will say it’s basically an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood for adults, something America needs now more than ever, whether you or your kids grew up with that PBS children’s program and you liked it or not. And I’ll add that the movie contains the most amazing and thoughtful minute of cinema I’ve ever witnessed in a theater. Just wait. You’ll see.

As old Saul pointed out in his letter to those folks in Corinth, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12-13).