By Rosalie Tirella
Yellow is my favorite color, so cheerful, fun and inviting. Wild flowers are my favorite flowers, better than the ostentatious beauties you find at the florist’s, trapped in plastic vases or ugly bricks of foam, dyed, cropped, cut … some even invented in scientists’ laboratories!
So these are my favorite days, my yellow wildflower days, with nature literally right outside my car door!! Spring time, not judging me, but sighing “Goodbye, Rosalie!” as the forsythia fade, leaving their branches dark and naked and the clumps of buttercups thin out and the dandelions’ yellow Afros turn grey then blow away …
Summer’s at all our fingertips now, the way the buttercups were caressing my old hands yesterday at the dog park. Or popping out between my toes as I sat on my blue and white checkered blanket watching Lilac play. …
There was a faint dusting of buttercup pollen on Lilac’s nose from sticking her face in the buttercups. I know my girl: she’s a hunter. Lilac was not smelling wildflowers, she was hunting for mice and moles and earth worms and snakes. To eat them! We people can’t smell a buttercup very well, but I bet a dog knows the buttercup aroma wafting beneath his belly. A dog’s nose – Lilac’s nose – unlike the noses belonging to us humans – has millions and millions of olfactory cells, receptors that smell a little buttercup quite nicely I bet. It must be fun to be a dog in spring!
I picked a buttercup yesterday to admire its beauty more closely. One of its small yellow petals fell on my thigh, wilting almost as soon as it landed on my skin. It was that delicate.
Aren’t we all buttercup petals?
The “old dog” and “small dog” side of the dog park has been allowed to “grow out.” So the grass stays unmowed, and Lilac and I play fetch in a mini field of beautiful buttercups. Jett, who has always turned his snout up at silly dog games, prefers to sit amid the buttercups and the dandelions, watching what could be the last spring flutter by him. He is 15 years old, deaf, a bit confused in the fields, looking for me to wave COME, JETT! or a loping Lilac to run back to him to lead and herd him back home – to me.
I remembered yesterday the buttercups of my Green Island girlhood: a few tall handfuls growing at the base of the stockade fence. Our landlord was having an affair with our downstairs neighbor. He had fixed up the old yard for her: put up a new tall fence, stuck a bird bath in the middle of our dirt yard and built a little open shed for his three deckers garbage cans, several that, in the summer heat, attracted little white maggots that I used to run to and examine as closely as I did the buttercups by our stockade fence.
But it was the buttercups that I picked and brought upstairs to my mother, sometimes running them under her pretty chin to make it a faded yellow. She was always very busy so I quickly put them into the old Sanka jar I had filled with tap water in our bathroom. Our third floor tenement was my little life science center: jars of earthworms I had dug up in the field across the way, buttercups and dandelions in washed now empty jars of Sanka instant coffee that I had filled with water. Gifts from my Polish immigrant grandmother who lived with us. Bapy. Bapy drank about a million cups of Sanka a day – Ma made her extra cups and kept them on the stove. Bapy would heat her cups of Sanka by placing the cups in a little saucepan of boiling water that was always on the rear burner of the gas stove. As kids we couldn’t walk through the kitchen without old Bapy yelling from her floppy old easy chair set at the head of our old green painted kitchen table by our mother so Bapy could be in the thick of family life, butting in at every turn: Rosie!! SANKA!…Mary!!! SANKA!!! Trina!! SANKA!!! CECELIA! SANKA!! Then my sisters and I dutifully, sometimes grudgingly, walked over to Bapy’s coffee dribbled, boiled egg stained place mat and grab her old coffee stained coffee cup and place it in the pan of now cool water and turn the gas flame on beneath the whole grungy set up to make the water boil to heat up Bapy’s cup of coffee. So we had a ton of empty Sanka jars around our house.
Sometimes I’d give my Bapy a little SANKA jar full of the yellow buttercups I had picked in our backyard. She’d take it, hold it up to her crinkly old face, then proudly set it before her cup of Sanka and plate of boiled egg and say: Jenkua, Rosa! with gusto!! Thank you, my Rosalie! Bapy, 78 and worn out from life, was riddled with arthritis and claw-like feet. She had grown up on a farm in Poland – ran it as the oldest daughter of a dad who had remarried a wicked lady who made the young baby run the farm and raise her younger siblings. My Bapy did it all, so she knew everything about raising children, goats and cows and crops of vegetables … and she loved flowers! Bapy had a long hard life that was full of worry and strife in Green Island. At the end she had no teeth and hardly ever smiled. She stumped around the house, often cursing to herself in Polish at our ner do well father, Daddy!! RED DEVIL!! DOG’S BLOOD! she’d yell in Polish whenever she saw our handsome, womanizer Daddy waltz through the front door (I’m sure she knew my father’s true colors from the instant she met him). But, for us kids, all kids, she always had a nickel or quarter in her threadbare little change purse she sat on, hidden under the seat cushion on her easy chair. And was a big – the best!!! – hugger. So she grabbed me and pulled me to her flat old breasts and hugged me hard, for a few seconds, to thank me for the buttercups. That was my beloved Bapy: a pain in the neck but, ultimately, the Polish Queen of Green Island Buttercups!
Lafayette Street: Bapy sitting in her easy chair at the head of our kitchen table. Her three granddaughters are celebrating Rose’s birthday.