The hollyhock seeds we planted last month won’t produce flowers this summer. I say “we,” but it’s really the man in my life who does the gardening around here. He loves it, but I’ve never been much for digging in the dirt. There are bugs and worms crawling about in there.
Despite that, I do love the diverse variety of shrubs, trees, and flowers that have popped up and out in our new yard on the California Redwood Coast. And the fragrances! Sweet, heady, delicate. Here I can inhale the air in a big way without sneezing and carrying on like the allergic person I was in our old home in Colorado.
But I digress. Hollyhocks. Typically, they don’t bloom the first year. I’m patient. No other flower means as much to me as hollyhocks, and I’m willing to wait for them to bloom whenever they think the conditions are best. I notice hollyhocks whenever they cross my path and even when they’re not so close to it. It seems I can sense their vibration reaching out and calling me into their web of romance.
I also find myself in a nostalgic meltdown whenever I encounter hollyhocks. They bring me back, way back, to hot humid summers of my growing up in the quiet southwest Chicago suburbs. There were hollyhocks in my grandmother’s yard, but I never noticed them until one afternoon in July when I was maybe four years old. I love my memories from that age. To this day, I’m in love with who I was at three and four years old — a sweet, innocent little girl who judged nothing, feared nothing, who took it all in, amazed at the wonders of life.
On that hot summer day in July, Grandma took me outside to the back of the house where the hollyhocks grew. They must have been as tall as my grandpa. She picked a dark pink flower from the stalk and pinched out the innards. I’d never seen this before.
She stuck a toothpick through the flower and turned it upside down. Then she repeated the process once or twice, adding more flowers, until it looked like a skirt of many ruffles. It was beautiful. Enthralled, I wondered what she was making and what magic she’d do next.
I watched, captivated, as she chose another flower, one that hadn’t opened yet, a bud. She stuck it on the toothpick. Next she plucked a red hollyhock, gutting it like the others, and placed it on top of the bud. It was a hat, and I saw now that Grandma had made a hollyhock doll. She used to made these, she told me, when she was a little girl on her family’s farm in Iowa.
She handed the hollyhock doll to me, and I accepted this sacred little piece of nature, feeling privileged to have it in my hold. I skipped around the yard with it, played with it all day, carried it around with me all that night, even though it was long wilted by then. My four year-old eyes only picked up on the beauty of it.
It charmed me, how we humans can create something from nature, transform the simple into the revered. I never got over it. Not to this day. And if things go right, I never will.
Interestingly, I myself have never made a hollyhock doll. It’s on my bucket list, though, next year when the hollyhocks bloom.