There once was a man, who lived on the prairie, or should we say on the land of prairie. The prairie had been mostly ploughed under to make way for forests of corn and waving fields of golden grain. Yet some parcels of prairie remained for the cows to leisurely graze and wander. On those places the wildflowers of the native lands still grow to signal each season’s un-going life giving rotations of color and change. Life on the prairie had changed since the immigrants ventured into this sea of billowing grass and plants that bloomed and faded, to bloom and fade again.
Such is the life on the prairie. The tall Bluestem at times greeted the thundering bison and traveling native people but the sod was basically left to grow again once these visitors had passed on to taller grass. Still change did come in a staggering way when the sea of grassland met the immigrating boatloads of plowing, planting, sacrificing and surviving people who did stay and did change the land.
Change has always been part of life. Change can be subtle and change can be drastic. Change comes through effort, toil and intent and change comes when forces larger than human intervention intersect with soil and places to change what was, into what is now. Most of the change on the prairie came from the intentional adaptation of those that tended the land and thus the native was mostly replaced by the exotic. Isolated pockets remained but mostly the seas of grass had passed into fields of production. It is not right or wrong but it just became a different life on the aged prairie sod. It was a change meeting changing life.
The “Hollyhock Man” came just after the time of great change on the prairie-lands. His grandfather and father before him had turned over the native sod to plant and to plant again, over and over into the rich humus, their dreams of life. The promise was sown again and again into the soil … that life would be better than it had ever been in the old country. The dream basically become true in the most part except for a few decades of dirty, depressing upheaval in the heartland of the states they call “America.”
Those that first came from the crowded places in Europe brought various items with them. Of course they brought heirlooms and history but they also brought seeds. Seeds of flowers from the homeland tucked away in soiled handkerchiefs, folded in sealed envelopes … so that they might remember the gardens of the mothers and fathers they had left behind.
Such were the seeds of the hollyhock which grew in myriads of gardens of the homelands of the immigrants since it had been carried back from the ancient trade routes to Turkey and China. The hollyhock was stout and sturdy and it blossoms with color reaching the full height of the tallest man. First it was planted around the local parish churches but later it was found everywhere as it was easily propagated because as the flower faded, handfuls of seeds were freely available to be gifted to another. Thus the process of the blessing of the tall hardy flower continued on to another family and another garden.
Hollyhocks were perfect for adding color to the bleak house and yards of the immigrants because they do not need pampering or special attention. Throw a handful of seeds under the window and in couple of years, there would be a wall of color to grace the sparse edges of the challenging new life on the prairie.
Children always loved hollyhocks because there was never a shortage of blossoms and thus there was never a danger of picking too many flowers and getting in trouble. Little girls loved hollyhocks because you could make them into little dolls with little faces complete with tiny eyes, green hats and flowing dresses of bright and dazzling colors. Little boys didn't mind them either, because somehow although they were slightly obnoxious, they could yet be charming by making their own versions of odd dolls which in some strange way might attract the attention of a childhood sweetheart they were momentarily swooning over.
As time progressed and as seasons came and went, other cultivated flowers took the place of hollyhocks and the faithful and generous trunks of showy hollyhocks were banished to the other realms of the farmyards.Years later when the discreet woman of the prairie mentioned she had to visit the hollyhocks, it was to serve notice that they were attending to the call of nature in the little house out in the backyard. Still the hollyhock continued growing upward in scattered places despite losing favor, ascending to the bright blue sky as it filled its stems with ample flowers of every hue and color.
The “Hollyhock Man” loved hollyhocks for a multitude of reasons. He was an endlessly hard working farmer dedicated to improving his land, improving its production and improving the quality of life for his family through his dedicated efforts. This tireless dedication to improvement in so many areas left him little time to focus on flowers but yet he loved flowers, plants and trees. Yearly he would order seeds from catalogs, to plant flowers around his house. After all ... there were always new varieties of hollyhocks. He always took time to help his lifelong sweetheart, who was now his beloved wife with her flowers, so that she might have fresh blossoms for her table. He loved flowers because deep down, he loved people … not just by spouting words of love but by truly loving people and finding great joy in the time he spent with them. Thus he loved the smiles, flowers produced in those he loved and the hearts brightened in the giving of flowers to others. He loved flowers and he loved hollyhocks. Even though it was decades ago, I can still picture him smiling and laughing ... as he watched my sister and her cousins assembling and organizing hollyhock dolls in imaginative regal pageantry and color on an flower covered picnic table. What delights, hollyhocks brought to the farm life! He could not afford flowers around all the buildings on the farm but after the hollyhocks became wooden stalks devoid of any reason to stand along a house, they could be neatly laid along another building with the hope of color coming in a new place … in a new season.
So in the prime of his life, the “Hollyhock Man” had hollyhocks everywhere. Forests of hollyhocks along all the buildings of his farm and as his farms increased … so did the hauling of armloads of brittle stalks of hollyhocks leaking seeds by the thousands … always banking on showy new displays growing along another set of new buildings. I have often wondered why the “Hollyhock Man” bothered to continually plant and replant these towering flowers over and over again.
Now after his passing, I think I know why. The “Hollyhock Man” was always a dreamer, full of faith and a true optimist. He was that way in his disposition and he was that way in his interactions with everyone along the way on his journey through life. He took great care in the preservation and preparation of the soil on his farm that it might produce up to its great potential. He believed all effort would generally be rewarded and if things were difficult and bleak … there was always a new season to come. Hollyhocks represented his core belief in a complete and practical way. The effort of transporting the stalks when the plant looked hopelessly bleak and barren would always bring flowers in the coming years. He looked at the people around him the same way. People were like hollyhocks! No matter how life looked, it had the potential to grow tall and blossom with color in a coming season. This is what he believed and this is how he lived. This is why; sometime late in the August heat … he would show up at your door with an armload of hollyhocks and ask you, “Where do want me to put these?”
Now after his years of hauling hollyhocks and his loving and caring ways have come to a close and the forests of blooms along his buildings are just a memory, there is a living legacy of dreaming, trusting in our faith and being optimistic that has been implanted in the hearts of all of those who knew him. There is also a good chance that somewhere, in some yard, a hollyhock or two is even now growing upward towards the bright blue sky, filling its stem with ample flowers of every hue and shade. There is also a good chance that some little girl will be shown the tricks of making hollyhock dolls and the cycle of the joy of the hollyhock will begin again for a new generation. Thanks, Dad for being the“Hollyhock Man” to so many of us. Thanks for believing in us, walking beside us and for teaching us to dream and to trust our faith as we look forward to the wonderful colors on the brittle stalk of the hardy hollyhock, which will be coming anew in the season of summer on the prairie.