Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Oh, Those Daylilies ...

not my photo--
lifted from Google Images
Apology: It's possible I've written here previously about daylilies. But, being too lazy even to do a simple check on Google, I'm writing about them again--if, indeed, this is "again." We were driving around to some old haunts on the Fourth, and in many places the lilies were blooming with their usual exuberance, and it just got me thinking ...

I don't have any real memories of daylilies, not until we moved to Hiram, Ohio, in August 1956. I would turn twelve in November that year. But soon the flowers became as much a part of my visual memory as sky and clouds. By 1958 we were living in a century home down Hiram's northern hill--11917 Garfield Road--and daylilies were everywhere on the property--along the road out front, a huge collection of them under an old apple tree in the front yard, clusters of them here and there. They were, of course, the orange ones--not any of those fancy colors that horticulturalists have engineered. (Here's a link to some scientific information about the plant.) Anyway, as the years went along, I began to think of the daylilies as part of the family--relatives who visited every summer, brightened our days, then slowly disappeared, going gentle into that good night.

They also seemed to line all the roads in Hiram Township, and lilies waved at us on every summer's journey to store or church or ball game or whatever.

I'm pretty sure now (as I'm enjoying my Years of Wisdom--or, more likely, Dotage) that part of their appeal--probably a very large part--was due to the tacit associations they had with school. Here was the simple logic that probably underlay my "thinking" at the time: Daylilies in bloom: no school; daylilies gone: school. (Can you tell I was not a fan of school in those days?)

Later, some of the houses where we've lived had daylilies on the property. In the late summer of 1979, Joyce, son Steve (age 7), and I returned from a year in Lake Forest, Illinois, where Joyce and I had taught at Lake Forest College--where I discovered I preferred middle-schoolers to undergraduates (thus our hasty return to Ohio after only a single year--Joyce was not so sure about these impulsive moves of mine). In 1980 we bought a house in Hudson--120 Aurora Street, the house that son Steve, I'm sure, considers his "real" boyhood home since he lived there until he went off to Tufts University in the fall of 1990.

Anyway, when we moved to 120, there were no daylilies on the property. And every spring I felt ... anxious? deprived? incomplete?  One day I couldn't stand it anymore. (Joyce, who loves the flowers, too, was willing to join me in the crime I was about to commit.)

We drove down into the Cuyahoga Valley (now a National Park--not then) and found a nice patch of orange lilies along the RR tracks. We parked the car, quickly spaded up a few, threw them in the back, roaring home like Bonnie and Clyde after they'd just knocked off a Kansas bank.

We transplanted those Purloined Lilies, but no stalks emerged the next year--just the leaves. And I was certain (on some level) that this was a Punishment for our grand theft. A year later, though ... here they came, and the patch grew and grew--and driving past the house, you can still see it (as we do all the time). (What I see there is about the only sublunary immortality I'll ever know.)

In 1990 we moved to 60 E. Pioneer Trail, one of Aurora's oldest houses (1835, if I remember), where we had no lily-worries: They were scattered about on our large lot. I'd been a teacher all those years (1966 onward), and I had become even more aware of the lilies' associations with summer ... with some months when I could read and travel and write and get ready for the imminent fall. When the lilies were out, it was full summer, and I was elated; when the last blossom folded, then fell, I knew it was time to start thinking about my plans for the coming academic year.

In January 1997 I retired from public school teaching (with thirty years' credit), and that fall we moved back to Hudson, to our current place, which had some lilies but just the later kind--none of the "real" ones, the orange ones. We muddled by for a few years (why was I feeling dour and down during the lily weeks?), then I put a notice on Facebook: Any friends out there have any orange lilies we could steal?

A message came quickly, from Hiram College classmate David Anderson (long a professor at the college, too--and probably the world's greatest authority on ... well, on just about anything I care about). David said he had some lilies we could have--and, better yet, they'd come from the garden of Prof. Charles F. McKinley. He'd taught both David and me at Hiram (I had him for English 101 in the summer of 1962, my first college class--and for several other courses later on) and he had remained a friend and supporter all these years. (And he'd been a fine colleague for David--and for Joyce.)  Dr. McKinley, who also lived in Hudson, had died on Oct. 17, 2004, at age 91, and David--a close friend--had taken some of the lilies from his garden. (Here's a link to a story about Dr. McKinley's life and death from a Kenyon College publication--he'd taught there.)

We planted them, and the next spring and summer they roared into fiery life. As of today, they've not yet bloomed (they don't get much sun), but they are bursting with buds and will one day--soon, very soon--began their festival of orange, and I will think of Dr. McKinley--and David--every time I look at them.


Yesterday, the Fourth, we drove over to Hiram. I wanted to see Joyce's new office (now part-time, she's moved to a smaller place in Bonney Castle, once an inn in Hiram, now the building for the English Department), and I also wanted to see Garrettsville, where a horrible fire destroyed most of a downtown block last spring. We had done most of our shopping in Garrettsville, just three miles away, when I was a kid, and my mother taught at the high school there (1956-1966), the school from which my younger brother had graduated (1966). I'd played basketball and baseball against the G-Men, and one summer I played on their E League baseball team (Hiram did not have a team for that age). I made some good friends there. After those two visits, we drove home along rural Pioneer Trail, with a stop for some maple syrup at Monroe's, where we first bought produce and syrup in 1956.

And on all our drives yesterday--Hudson to Hiram, Hiram to Garrettsville, Garrettsville to Aurora, Aurora to Hudson--the roads in many places were lined with that glorious orange that still captures my breath, decorates my memory, educates my heart.

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