Growing roses in Florida can be a challenge. The heat, humidity and bugs here conspire to destroy the delicate hybrids most people prefer. They’re just too much work for me. We have two types of roses here at Moultrie Creek headquarters – the Cracker rose and the Cherokee rose.
The Cracker rose is one of the antique China roses better known as Louis Phillipe. It’s a bush rose with clusters of small, dark red blooms that bloom year-round. When we first looked at this plant in a nursery, I asked their resident expert – a very charming, very Southern lady – if this would be a difficult rose to raise here. She answered in her slow, Southern drawl – “Honey, this rose will grow in traffic.” She was right. We whack the bushes back a couple of times a year to keep them from getting leggy, but that’s all the attention they get.
The Cherokee rose is an entirely different creature. You seldom see it growing in a garden and it’s almost impossible to find at a nursery. In early spring, you will find it blooming all over the woods and roadsides here in north Florida where it grows wild. The Cherokee is also an antique China rose – a climbing rose that blooms once a year. It’s flower is a simple white, five-petal bloom with yellow stamens. While most roses have thorns, those on the Cherokee rose are formidable. If you want security, plant a perimeter of Cherokee roses – and buy some sturdy leather gloves before you try handling them.
This rose received its common name because it is linked to the Trail of Tears. The petals represent the tears of the Cherokee women as they made their way on their forced emigration. The golden yellow center symbolizes the Cherokee gold taken from them. It is the state flower of Georgia.
Our yard is no manicured landscape so the Cherokee rose fits in perfectly. It also serves a very symbolic purpose – both my mother [Marjorie Barker Killebrew Barrett 1920-1981] and her mother [Lois Link Barker 1887-1968] loved the Cherokee rose. Like the rose, both women were strong and tough but each had a quiet beauty – in both body and soul. My rose climbs up the front porch rail right outside the window next to my desk and, like many family traditions, it provides a link to the people of my past.
Just looking at the records of their lives, you’d find a great deal of tragedy associated with my Cherokee roses. Lois lost her mother at the age of 5. She was in her early 20s when her father died. Her husband, Dolph, and his father both died within a week of each other when Marjorie was not quite 2. Lois raised four children by returning to her home state of Tennessee and teaching school. Not only did they survive the Depression, but Lois managed to hold on to the Georgia farm. Marjorie’s first husband, Joseph Killebrew, was killed in World War II. Her second marriage ended in divorce not long after the birth of her fourth child. She too raised her family by teaching school.
There was nothing tragic about either woman. From the letters she saved, we can see that Lois was a bit of a flirt before she and Dolph were married. I don’t remember a “doting” grandmother, but we always enjoyed visiting or having her visit us. I seldom saw her agitated and she always enjoyed company. The letters and cards received after her death show the many lives she touched and their love for her.
Mom was strong, talented, resourceful, gracious and fun. She sewed beautifully, refinished furniture, did her own upholstery and had an eye for design. Every weed, every scrap had design potential. She could see potential in even the most common items. Her flower arrangements and Christmas decorations were eye-catching. My favorite prom dress was made from a sample piece of upholstery damask and the end of a bolt of drapery satin.
She loved the beach so we spent lots of time there. [It helped that it was only about a mile from the house.] She thought nothing of piling us all into the car for a Sunday breakfast cookout and swim at The Cove before getting dressed for church. Our big front porch was the official rainy-day playground for our neighborhood. Grandmother’s antique wicker would get up-ended and covered with sheets to create playhouses. Many a theatrical was performed on that porch. One exception was the magic show where my cousin and I were going to saw my sister in half. Mom gently convinced us that we needed to perfect our other tricks before taking on this one.
I remember her irritation – mostly about small things like poor grades [anything below a B was poor], getting home after curfew or chores that didn’t get done. She constantly pressed us to do better, work harder and study more. We could be anything we wanted, but we would have to work for it. Yes, she could do the mother guilt thing very well. However, when crisis hit she seldom panicked. Injuries, accidents, hurricanes and illnesses were handled with amazing calm.
She was just reaching the stage of life where she could relax and enjoy herself when the illness struck that would take her life so early. The last lesson she taught me was to make the best of today because you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Like all her other lessons, this one has served me well.
Not long after she died I spent a long weekend at the family’s Georgia farm with her two sisters. Our project was to find a suitable stone for mom’s grave. Mary and Lin were looking for Georgia marble which meant we’d be looking at old stones that, for one reason or another, had been removed from their original owners’ graves. We visited several monument companies without finding anything we liked. At our last stop, one stone stood out because of its unusual shape. Once we got closer, we knew this was our stone. The front of the stone was carved with Cherokee roses.