Because it rained so hard yesterday, I brought some magic lilies inside this morning, wanting to enjoy them before the rain battered them more. I was thinking of my Grandma Anna, Aunt Mamie (on whose birthday mine began to bloom–it would have been her 101st), cousins John, Anna, Wilbur, both Aunt Graces, Aunt Wilma, Cindy and other friends and family whose birthdays are this month (including my own).
This heirloom flower (from 1889, the year Grandma Anna was born) is Lycoris Squamigera, an Asiatic wildflower in the amaryllis family that grows in woodlands in China and Japan—and in the rural south in this country too.
My grandmother called them “our birthday flowers” because they bloomed in August, and every year was a surprise, their stalks emerging overnight with several pink trumpet-like blooms where there had been nothing the day before.
The bulbs produce thick lush daffodil-like foliage in the spring, then once the foliage dies down, nothing visible remains. It’s easy to assume that the plant died and nothing will come of the promise of that green foliage. In late July and early August though, the stalks appear overnight and the blooms come, pink wings fluttering in the breeze and the sunlight shining through their translucent petals.
I have wondered where my grandmother found the magic lily bulbs that she planted. She lived all her life in two rural counties, never drove a car, raised twelve children and cared for several of us cousins and other family members. Where did she get an Asiatic wildflower?
My mother told me that either Miss Molly or Miss Plut (short for Plutina), who both lived in a grand house on a hill we called the Molly Hill, may have given them to her.
My magic lilies are from my mother’s and my aunt’s beds of them, and they both brought them from Grandma Anna’s plantings. The ones I brought inside this morning are at least 100 years old.
These flowers speak of longevity, survival, persistence—and surprise. They still seem magic to me whether they are called resurrection lilies, naked lady lilies (now, that’s an interesting thought) or magic lilies.
My daughter was named for my two grandmothers, Elizabeth and Anna. I wish I could show her the blooms this morning and tell her the story of my grandmother’s lilies. I would tell her that not only does she share her name with my grandmother and my cousin, but now one of her nieces also has the name. I would tell her that the lilies still give me hope, that I feel so sad at missing her, but I have hope that she has new life.
I drove by the house that was my grandmother’s earlier this week and saw magic lilies lining a fence that divided her yard from what was then my Uncle Boyd and Aunt Gladys’s yard. Despite grass that had not been cut, the line of magic lilies lifted their blooms above the scraggly weeds and looked for all the world like graceful ballerinas.
Then I drove by Cindy’s childhood home and remembered her parents and her grandmother. There in the front yard, all by themselves beneath a shade tree were two magic lilies, resurrected from a long ago planting. They looked like proud sentinels standing at attention in a yard full of memories. They looked like hope.