Teddy Bears in the Garden

Teddy Bear sunflower growing in the side yard.
Teddy Bear sunflower growing in the side yard.

When I first saw these sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, “Teddy Bear”) in the Baker Creek catalogue, I literally gasped. I felt an immediate, tactile experience of the flower blossoms and knew I had to order some because “Finally,” I thought, I’d found a flowerhead big and tender and soft and sunny enough—a blossom akin to wobbling in the sun before collapsing into an old dog’s downy fur. Because that’s just what I was looking for.

Let me explain.

When I moved to South Boston 6 years ago, I lived in an apartment downtown for a time. In a spacious loft a story over Main Street, my girlfriend (now wife) and I enjoyed Christmas parades and the occasional street festival, always randomly, never planned (I was married to my job then and details like weekends and holidays were often overlooked). One summer, we peered out a window, saw a street fair in progress, packed up the kids and strolled out into the hubbub to record—I couldn’t anticipate this at the time—one of the most vivid and tender memories of my life.

Our kids are our dogs. At the time, that was Chewie, my wife’s ancient Australian Terrier, and Matilda, my willful Corgi puppy. As we burbled through the crowd, people stopped to acknowledge the dogs, and children, especially, to ask for names and permission to pet. Then, at one point:

A young family approaches. Mother, father. and a little tow-haired boy. The boy is maybe 24” tall, and he walks clumsily in sneakers that are adorable in their tininess the way all kid-sized sneakers are. He seems new to walking, but eager to go places and his dad holds his hand to keep him upright. He sees Chewie, has seen him from farther away, and is now close and wants so badly to touch him. Elyse stoops down to offer up Chewie, cradling him in her arms, and as this little boy teeters towards them, he keeps it together, determined, reaching with one hand, his other relying on his dad for support, until he’s so close and he can loose his hand from his father’s grip and now he somehow collapses upward into Chewie, smiling, pushing his face into the old dog’s downy, downy shoulder as he sighs. He has not come to hug this dog so much as experience him, to be awash in him. Sunlight leaks and pours over Elyse’s shoulder onto her hair, and Chewie, and the boy.

I’m crying a little as I write this. Chewie is gone now, passing at 16 last year, but the memory of that day is so fundamentally good. That little boy’s sense of satisfaction, of joy, of oneness with life and delight and puppies and sunlight and all that goodness—that’s what I think of when I see these particular sunflowers growing and blooming in our yard.

Baker Creek online doesn’t seem to be offering these seeds at this time of year, but I’m sure you can find them elsewhere. If you live in town, you’re welcome to have some of mine when they seed. Just drop me a line.

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