I am sitting today on my sunny patio looking at a gardenia bush growing in a pot. I bought it yesterday from a nearby nursery. Its leaves are so green and shining. I love gardenia flowers when their fragrance fills the air.
The gardenia bush reminds me of the time I decided to go back to see the old house where I was born and spent my childhood with my nine siblings, Mum and Dad. As my old home was about 1000 kilometres from where I now live, my husband and I drove all that way to visit with family and to see the old house. I felt excited at the prospect.
As we neared the place, I noticed something strange about it. The trees had grown so huge that I couldn't see the house. We drove through the big gates and stopped outside the house fence to find no house there. The high stumps were still standing, with wires stretched from one to another and passionfruit and choko vines growing on them. I walked a little further and found the old detached kitchen still standing. My excitement grew.
Slowly and carefully I opened the door. I don't know why; did I expect something to jump out at me? I was overcome with nostalgia as I looked around and saw the old wood stove in the bricked-in fireplace with a fountain beside it and the chimney. I saw the shelf above the stove recess, which I remembered always had a decorative oilcloth cut into peaks, and canisters sitting there. A table and a stool and the knife-box Dad had made for Mum early in their married life were still there.
The linoleum was faded. The glass window at one end was intact, and I remembered how the green frogs would cling on the outside and we could see their white bellies and pink feet from inside. The push-out window was still at the other end near the stove.
I could picture the long table where Mum, Dad and nine children gathered to eat our meals. Dad sat at the head, and on a little shelf he kept a sinewy bamboo stick that could reach to the other end of the table. He used it if we got too noisy. I opened the door into the walk-in pantry and again I was filled with
nostalgia. I saw the shelves that had always been filled with bottles and cans and stores of all kinds. Again we had pretty, decorative oilcloth along these shelves. I could still see a stool built into the floor on which stood a very big cast-iron boiler with a handle and a closefitting lid. We put the bread in there to keep it free from all dust and vermin. I caught sight of the wide shelf used for kneading the dough when making bread and the lovely high wooden box with a hinged lid that Dad had made to hold a sack of flour. A window on the end led to the backyard that, as children, we often used for a quick exit.
By this time I was overcome with emotion to see dust and leaves lying everywhere--when I remembered it all as spic and span.
I walked out the back and found the old turnstyle--the fences were gone. As I swung it around a few times I thought of the times we children would give each other rides on it and occasionally pinched thighs and legs. I found where our gardens had been. My mother loved her garden--but it was hard work carrying buckets of water.
The huge mango trees were still there. But I smelled a sweeter scent. I looked to see where it was coming from and found the old gardenia bush still bearing sweet-smelling flowers. I wanted to put my arms around it and exclaim, "So there you are! God bless you for your beauty and your endurance."
I stood there staring at it. In its younger days the leaves were green and shining. It had withstood cyclones, heatwaves, frosts and flood. And it was still bearing sweet-scented flowers--though not as many and not as large as it used to bear. It was now gnarled, twisted and faded, but still giving out its sweet scent. I plucked a flower and deeply inhaled its perfume. Somehow the lesson I learned that day lifted the forlorn, depressed feeling that had threatened to overcome me. The beauty of the bush atoned for the neglect of the house.
I thought of myself at fourscore-years-and-ten. I'm bent and gnarled and faded and grey, but I could still bear a few sweet smiles and kind words to help someone by the wayside.
This new gardenia will remind me when it blooms to do just that and to never forget the lesson I learned when I went to see my old home and met up with the old gardenia bush. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 2 Corinthians 4:16.
–Muriel Cross grew up in Mackay, northern Queensland. Now 93, she lives in the Adventist Retirement Village at Victoria Point, Queensland.