Spider Lilies

It hit 50° this morning. It caught me a little off guard when I stepped out of the house in my T-shirt. I knew it was supposed to cool off a bit. The recent weather has been exceedingly pleasant. But this is different than low 60s.

I sat my coffee cup on the porch rail and went back inside to grab a fleece out of the coat closet.

My Yankee friends make fun of me for wearing a light jacket in this sort of weather. These are good folks, but they are transplants from areas of this country where 50° is considered a heat wave. They wear shorts down here year-round. And they are just a little snootty about it all.

“What you got the long sleeves on for? Ooh, it’s so cold.” Followed by snickering and jeering. “My mama’s got thicker blood than you, and she’s 90.”

I return the favor by making fun of the fact that they eat sour kraut. “Youse guys really know how to ruin some fine boiled cabbage. You stick it in a jar and let it rot for a few months, and you call that good eating.”

“Yah. So?” they say.

I lived in the north for a season. I shoveled snow deep enough to cover my kneecaps. One summer, I endured 55° on the fourth of July. We went to a popular lake with a “beach” in the hope of having a picnic and enjoying a swim. We almost froze to death, and I never even put my toe in the water. People were swimming and grilling burgers like it was no big deal.

“You call this summer,” I said.

I’m fairly certain that the winters up that way have replaced the blood in their veins with 10W-40 and altered their brain cells just a tad.

Myself, I think the cool weather is the perfect weather. Nippy mornings and warm afternoons are the kind of days that make me glad to be alive. I mean it. The heat and humidity of July and August are down-right unpleasant. The cold rainy days of January are dark and gloomy unless there’s a fire in the fireplace. Now, spring is good. I’m always glad for spring, but for some reason I’m in love with fall.

For one thing, the Spider Lilies are out. Delicate red flowers that sit atop an almost invisible stem, which makes it look like the blooms are levitating in thin air.

I noticed the ones above the rock wall in front of my house last week. These particular ones are inspirational to me because they belonged to Beth. She begged me for Spider Lilies for years. I kept putting it off. In fact, I put her off so long that she resorted to thievery.

One of the last times she was in Selma to take care of her dad before he passed, she went by New Live Oak to visit her mother’s grave. Valley Creek runs by the west border of the cemetery, not far from their family plot. She spotted a cluster of Spider Lilies growing along the top edge of the creek bank.

Something came over her. An evil Spider Lily spirit. It’s not like she kept a shovel in the trunk of the car. And she wasn’t really an avid gardener. But she saw those red flowers and had to have them.

She found a dead branch in the tall grass near the creek and broke off a piece big enough to use as a makeshift shovel. Mind you, I wasn’t there, so I’m having to imagine this normally very shy and unassuming woman down on her knees, almost hidden by the weeds. A passerby might have mistakenly thought that she was a grave robber.

“I was so afraid somebody was gonna catch me,” she said. And believe me, I knew her well enough to know that she was genuinely afraid, which tells you how much her obsession with Spider Lilies overtook her otherwise gentle and law-abiding nature.

She loved to joke about the whole episode. “I was ready if the police were to stop me on the way home.” Like the police were out looking for the person who vandalized the creek bank on the backside of the cemetery.

She said with sheepish grin, “I figured if they saw my dirty clothes and the flowers lying on the back seat and asked me about what I’d been up to, I’d tell them my grandmother gave them to me as long as I was willing to do the digging.”

So, she was not only a thief but a premeditated liar.

When she got home, she handed me her prize. A glob of dirt and some wilted red flowers wrapped in a wet napkin. She always kept enough fast-food napkins in the glove box to handle any emergency.

She got straight to the point. “If you knew all the trouble I went to, to get these, and if you love me half as much as you say you do, you’ll plant these for me.”

Those brown eyes and dirty knees got me. I got a small shovel out of the shop and went straight to the front yard.

“Where do you want them?” She deserved to have some say in the matter.

“Someplace I can see them from the front porch. When the weather cools off next September and we sit out on the porch, I want to be able to look at them.”

Which is how they got in that spot behind the top of our little rock wall.

She only got to enjoy them for two Septembers. Last year their appearance made me weep. This year they make me smile.

Funny how the past and the present collide in the bloom of one small cluster of red flowers. On a cool fall evening, all the things you know and take for granted turn out to be different than you ever would have imagined it.

The Spider Lilies won’t last long. Soon they will lie hidden in the ground for the next 50 weeks until next year. One short, mysterious and glorious reveal. But their story is worth its weight in gold to me.

The first cool days come along. One day nothing. And almost like magic, one day there they are. And so is her memory.

Fleece or no fleece, fall is a special season.

4 thoughts on “Spider Lilies

  1. I love them too. I always called them surprise lillies because they just appear out of nowhere. Beautiful story as usual!


  2. Paul, this is one of my favorites of your missives and one of my favorite flowers. My spider lillies bloomed last week and have quickly faded away. But, now I will always think of your Beth every September when they pop their little red heads up just over the rise on my bank. Keep writing! Betty Sims



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