An envelope of sunflower seeds turned up in a drawer I was cleaning out last spring. When I looked at the date, they were well overdue for planting — try more than 10 years. Still, I decided to poke them in the dirt on the south side of my house.
Most of those seeds grew, some better than others. Sunflowers must be a hardy lot because the power of those 10-year-old seeds is very evident right now. The tallest one is about eight feet with a very large flower starting to form that will be full of seeds.
My mother, who grew up on a farm, could not abide sunflowers. They reminded her of all the hot, hard work she was required to do as the child of a farmer. The sunflowers were like weeds to her, growing all around the canal that brought water to the farm.
A talented artist, she was well-known for her beautiful flower paintings, but they were flowers that had grown in her mother’s cherished garden, not the sunflowers growing wild. She made me solemnly promise that at her funeral if there was even one sunflower in an arrangement, I was to pluck it out.
I remember years ago reading an article that compared flowers to people. There were the spring people who flowered early and then coasted along, hoping for another great surge of growth. There were the ones who stored up energy for a long time, blooming midsummer, and then they rested on their laurels. There are the people who go along untroubled at their long wait and suddenly, like a chrysanthemum, bloom away until winter. Of course there are the dandelions with their unself-conscious ability to just pop up anywhere whether they are welcome or not.
Sunflowers and dandelions are in the same plant family, but sunflowers get a lot more respect. When looked at closely, the sunflowers aren’t just one big flower but many tiny blooms, with the tiny blossoms in the center something bees love.
I am now reading a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin titled “No Ordinary Time.” The book is a chronicle not only of the lives of President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, but seamlessly reminds us of how the leaders of that period formed our modern America. It is a fascinating tale.
Eleanor’s mother was considered a beauty and was disappointed in her plain daughter. The girl may not have been a rose, but she could be considered a sunflower.
With perception and understanding, she helped guide her husband to form The New Deal, which helped pull our country out of a deep depression and then made sure that changes that were necessary to arm our nation and fight World War II did not trample the rights of others.
She stood tall, even bearing comments about being out of line with her outspoken ideals. She pushed the rights of African-Americans when they were ill-treated by the military and made sure her husband pushed it through, although politically he was hesitant. She continually reinvented herself as her life took twists and turns, always looking for light and guidance.
Because of the seeds she had sown, Goodwin writes, “Eleanor Roosevelt remained an important political figure until her death in 1962. She was a leading force behind the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948, a vigorous advocate for the establishment of a Jewish state in Israel, a prominent actor in New York politics and a founding member of Americans for Democratic Action. During her last years, she was often called “The greatest woman in the world.”
“People are like flowers,” writes Jon Pinney. “There are no two that are exactly the same, yet each is as beautiful, brilliant and complex as the next.“
A sunflower can sometimes trump a rose.