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Getting Zinnias On My 70th Birthday

I planted a garden of zinnias at the first house I owned, 4953 Ivy Hill Court, Fort Worth, Texas, back in 1978.

The flowers grew strong and tall in a bevy of shades and swayed like dancers in the hot western wind. I’ll never forget them or the feel of tending them there in the Texas soil with the sun on my back. Zinnias are related to sunflowers, natives of the dry and hot prairies. They survive against all odds; they thrive in drought conditions. I respect them. They’re tough and beautiful. Mine grew three feet tall on thick bristly stems, each flower vibrant with life and colors of all shades–apple red, flame orange, yellow as the sun.

It was a time of youth and promise in my life. I was newly married. We had everything, it seemed. My two little boys, little blond darlings who rode their bikes zipping up and down those hilly streets in our development, were growing up happy and well. I see them with their friends in the driveway, laughing, shooting basketballs, the thump, thump, thump ever in the air.

We had a large fenced yard, rectangular with a few dwarfed trees. Texans don’t care much for trees, but as a Northerner, I appreciated the few we had. I introduced myself to my neighbor and she said, “Oh, ya’ll’s from England!” “No,” I said, “I’m from New York state. You must think I talk funny.” She just grinned.

I have a curious, dreamlike memory of standing out back, hanging laundry, clip by clip. The wind was so strong it would snap the sheets. Time stood still in that foreign Texas landscape. The back yard symbolized all I wanted from life — a secure home, a loving family, flowers blooming, kids in the yard, beauty, sunshine, open space, freedom.

I loved that little brick house though it was nothing special– just two bedrooms, one that my boys shared. My mother and I decorated the boys’ room with a football motif, Cowboys for Brennan and Vikings for Aryl. Each had a twin bed on either side of a window that overlooked that backyard. A tank of fish illuminated the nights. Shelves of books lined the walls. The kitchen was generous with room for eight or more diners, a medium living room, and a garage where we parked our yellow Honda. For a year or two, the brick house on the corner of Ivy Hill Court was home. When you buy a house, you don’t imagine leaving it.

I worked for the Quarter Racing Record in downtown Fort Worth as an assistant editor. As part of my job, I called jockeys and trainers at tracks all over the west to get their stories. Sometimes I drove up Route 35 to Oklahoma or navigated lonely state highways on my way to Texas ranches to take photos or do interviews of those in the quarter racing field. A jockey replied to my question once, “I ain’t for shore, ma’am.” I thought, what does that mean? It still makes me laugh. Texas, the West, was a whole new world to the daughter of Swedish immigrants from upstate New York.

But it was the house, that little brick ranch house, the first I owned as an adult, where for a while I had everything I wanted, where family was whole, where it all came together. I turned there on Ivy Hill Court in the dry hills west of Fort Worth where the sun baked the land brown and the wind often howled all night. Sometimes places we live hold on to us always.

I planted a garden that bloomed all summer and autumn, a garden that has stayed with me all these years. I knew it was important even back then. I wondered what flowers I would plant on subsequent birthdays, and now I’m at number 70. Part of me is still standing in that Texas back yard, with the hot sun on my back and the west wind blowing.

The zinnias are still blooming.

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