by Carol Sokolsky
How old were you when you first fell in love? A love-that-lasts-a-lifetime kind of love? When did you first realize it was for real? I can tell you exactly, well… almost exactly… when it was for me. I’m still as much in love today as I was the very first moment my eyes locked onto what became one of my greatest joys and what makes me smile every time we are together.
I remember like it was yesterday. I was about seven years old. Back then, no one thought twice about sending a child out for the day to play with the neighborhood kids. Mom would send my sister and me out to play in the morning, and except for popping in for a drink or a snack, or a bathroom break, we’d didn’t come home until almost dark. It’s what we did in our little Indiana town of 3,500 people, where most folks knew each other on a first name basis.
We lived on Clark Street, just half a block from the school, which housed kindergarten through 12th grade. For a town the size of Berne, we had considerable talent on the school staff. Dr. Freeman Burkhalter was our musical director for many years. He also directed The Messiah every Christmas, with guest soloists coming from Chicago or beyond. (I still love that music as much as I did when Dr. Burkhalter was so animated with his baton.)
Dr. Burkhalter always seemed larger than life. He lived just two blocks from my home in what I remember as the most beautiful house I had ever seen. It was dark red, and it reminded me of a fairy tale house, because there was a garden behind it full of every type of flower imaginable. It always seemed to be in bloom (at least in my little girl memory). I was a little afraid of Dr. Burkhalter – I have no idea why. Maybe because his property was all so fairy-tale-like to me that I naturally inserted some drama. Otherwise, the story would not have been more than two neighbors living their separate lives a block apart. That would have been boring… but my story was not boring. This is exactly where I fell head-over-heels in love, at just seven years old.
On one particular day, Mary, Susie, and I were out playing all afternoon. We ended up at that beautiful dark red house, and for the first time, I walked into the garden. My eyes locked on the most beautiful flower I had ever seen… a perfectly formed, yellow rose. I remember smelling it, and then seeing so many yellow roses around me. I knew I had to have one. So I picked it. Then I picked a few more. I ran home to show my mommy how beautiful they were! I honestly don’t know why I was so enamored with those yellow roses that day, but I can still see, smell and feel the thrill of those roses, like nothing else that I’ve ever known since. I was in love….totally in love…with that beautiful, perfect yellow rose.
When my dad came home, he was not quite as pleased over my love affair as I thought he’d be. He began a series of questions that, I’m sure, were designed to teach me life lessons. “Did you ask permission to take something that wasn’t yours?” “Well – no. They were just beautiful flowers and I was excited to share with Mommy.” By the end of the evening, I had walked back to what was now a scary red house; my precious roses in hand. I knocked on the door and gave them back with a timid, “I’m sorry I took your flowers”. In the span of one day, I fell madly in love and was later crushed by the loss. I learned two things in those brief hours. I knew I would always want yellow roses around me, and I learned that if something does not belong to me, it’s not mine to take. The penance was painful to a little girl. I’m sure Dr. Burkhalter was very gracious. I don’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter. I knew my love affair would never end, and it never has.
Over the years, for every event in my life that required flowers, and sometimes for no reason at all, I’ve always been drawn to yellow roses. It’s almost a trademark. Anyone who knows me well, sees how I treasure yellow roses. In the second and third place for my affections are m&m candies and champagne. I remember a day when the true love of my life showed up at my door with a bouquet of yellow roses, a bottle of champagne, and a big bag of m&ms. I knew… I just knew… that he understood what made me smile. He certainly did.
Twenty-two years later, on my wedding anniversary, I opened my door to find two dozen, absolutely perfect, long-stemmed yellow roses, in a beautiful vase. I struggled to open the card. You see, just twelve days before, on April 7, 2012, my sweet love closed his eyes for the last time and walked right into Heaven, into the presence of Jesus. Yet that man, so sick, struggling to think, with his brain full of tumors, had somehow asked his hospice nurse, Ann, to buy me yellow roses for our anniversary. I guess he knew he would already be in heaven by then. That day, there were twenty-four stems of pure love from the man who knew what brought me joy, at a time he knew I’d need it. Even though the card was written by Ann, it captured what he wanted me to know.
Now I had a problem. These were the most precious roses I had ever received. Cut roses die. I took many pictures, but I wanted to always remember these roses. I longed for a way to keep my roses from dying. Earlier that afternoon, a friend told had me about a girl who could freeze-dry flowers and preserve them under glass. When I called, she said the best flowers are those that are not quite open yet, just like my roses. I had to decide: Do I give these roses to her today, and hope she can preserve them? Can I even take the risk? Or, do I keep them with me, knowing they will be beautiful only for a short time before they die? I wept over roses that day.
I knew what I had to do. After putting the roses securely in my car… I drove out and handed them over… again in tears. The florist knew these roses were precious. That they represented life and love, death, grief and pain. They held beautiful memories. The preserving process would take six weeks. I left her shop feeling almost like I had gone through another funeral. I had left those beautiful yellow roses with someone I did not even know. My heart was doubly broken.
Funny how God works…a week later, I got a call from a dear friend of mine, who asked me if I had taken yellow roses to be freeze-dried. As it turned out, the woman to whom I entrusted my roses is the sister-in-law of this dear friend! I had no idea. I smiled knowing who had my love roses in their basement shop, preserving them for a lifetime, just for me.
Today, those beautiful roses hang on my wall, under glass, with a very special inscription. They remind me every day how my love affair started, oh, so many years ago…in a beautiful garden…next to a dark red house…on Clark Street…in my little hometown.
Someone asked me recently what brings me joy and meaning, so I have started a list, and I encourage you to do the same. At the top of my list is something that shook my world when I was just 7 years old….Yellow Roses.
Carol Sokolsky is a relative newcomer to Tulsa. She relocated from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in October, 2014 after retiring from FedEx Services, Global Account Management. She spent most of her 33 FedEx years as a road warrior, leading a large global management team and serving one global customer for over 20 years. Her passion for blogging began in 2010 as she launched a two-year blog that chronicled the journey of her husband’s valiant fight with cancer and ultimately the end of his journey. Her blog became a book, “Sid’s Journey”. She continues to journal daily on just about everything!
You can also read about Carol’s experience at Cain’s Ballroom, her Journey Through Grief, having a life coach, why Tulsa is such a great place to live, kneel, her journey through losing a son, or her journey through a family member’s addiction, and another piece titled, Antediluvian.