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The Florist's Daughter

The Florist's Daughter - Patricia Hampl "Big 8x10 glossies in a leatherette album fastened in place by black tabs, pictures so primal they're glued in mind more powerfully than memory itself, as if the 20th century gave everybody an extra kit bag of memories, your own flimsy, inexact ones, and the incontrovertible evidence of photo albums, image upon unsorted image documenting your life before you existed." p.13"But the attention my father demanded [Look! Look!] was a world away from the note-taking watchfulness of my mother... She was tracking. He was filled with wonder." p. 52... Rose and Fern, the only female growers [in the plant nursery], came into the lunchroom from house 10 for coffee. I don't make up the names. They were Rose and Fern, one from Germany, the other a St. Paul girl bearing the name of Treewiler as if she descended from a family of climbing vines. Bill Vero, who had trained in Austria, said grace over his meat-loaf sandwich in the lunchroom. His son was a missionary in Madgascar, wherever that was. Chester read the dictionary during lunch break. An odd duck. He complained that the newspaper crossword was too easy. Insulting to a man's intelligence. He belonged to Mensa. 'Do you know the meaning of circumnavigation, Patricia? Can you spell it? Ask me any work, ask me how to spell it.'" p. 54"But this was duty, perhaps the last duty. I seemed always to be undertaking final moments that turned out to be not final at all, just another two-step in death's wily dance. 'You'll never be sorry you're doing this,' people said with unctuous approval when they heard I was going to Ireland with her, offering their own stories of last good deeds done, self-regarding vignettes of sacrifices made, efforts expended for parents no longer on the planet. You'll never be sorry. They didn't understand that she was never going to die. She was just going to keep almost dying. The illogic of this thought refused to budge from my brain. 'I wish I were dead, I wish I were dead,' she'd howled on the sidewalk in front of the flower shop -- years ago. But wishing doesn't get your there. She would hang on by her fingernails from the ledge of life." p. 135"Warmth and safety, small pleasures, unspeakable wounds, concertina music, too much food, the talk at the lunch table of what would be served for dinner -- this was the ever fulfilled promise of West Seventh [the old Czech neighborhood]. 'Nobody had anything.' That was how to be happy. Have nothing." p. 162"The Irish seemed to die in rank order, old in their beds. And it was the Irish, higher on the hill [in St. Paul, MN] who were given to high hopes and intrigue and the score-keeping of religion and politics, the tending of old grudges and grievances. The color of hope was green, the nuns told us in school. And of envy." p. 163"St. Paul's surface was smooth and brittle. It cracked like black ice beneath us here in the land of lakes. Keep the friends of your youth. Stay with your family. 'People like us don't divorce,' he said with resignation, astonishing me another time in the truth-mobile of the Buick after a particularly furious harangue from my mother that left him, as usual, more dismayed than angry. Add nothing, go nowhere, keep the same job, the same once-sweet, now-bitter wife, keep the same faith. He even said, more than once, 'Why go to Minneapolis?' Everything you sought -- danger, beauty, trouble enough -- will come of its own accord. It will be all the more harrowing for happening here in the transcendent Nowheresville where it is least expected. The middle, the safety zone where he and my mother thought they lived. Elsewhere, it turns out, is right here. It'll come and get you, you with your fist in your pocket." p. 166"Like everyone, I became a busy person, especially after my father died and my mother's care fell to me. I frequently told people how busy I was, I e-mailed to several continents on the subject: I'm swamped, stressed, I'm at wits' end. It was my main message. But then it seemed to be everyone else's message too. I toiled under the weight of tottering piles of paper, burdened by the unanswered correspondence of dusty decades, crushed by dumb domestic details, waking panicked in the unforgiving night, the dread of my sins of omission (mainly -- I didn't have *time* for sins of commission) stabbing at my heart. Above all, I was laid low the past five year -- make that closer to ten -- by the 19th-century duties of middle-aged postmodern daughterhood invoked these days by the oily social-work term "primary caregiver." My typical salutation became the apology -- I'm late, I'm behind. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Much hand-wringing. There was grandiosity to it, as if everyone was waiting for me. Yet I couldn't stop the racing pulse, the clutch of the heart. How did this happen to me, a person who never took an Incomplete in college, who was never late for the orthodontist in high school? I throw myself on the mercy of six or seven people daily. I am just terribly, terribly *sorry* much of the time." p. 202-203"This is a new smile, not the smile of her previous self, not a merely happy smile. It is a cosmic smile of vast dimension and knowing, and I'm beginning to think it may be the reason I cannot stay away." p. 211"She's right. These years I'm too busy and it's a waste. I get nothing done and I race around all the time and then I set here doing nothing, staring with her into the bleak aquarium.I waste my life. I want to. It's the best thing to do with a life. We were wrong about work -- it isn't the best thing, no matter how much you love it. Wasting time is better. I sit with my mother, as has been destined since time began because a daughter is a daughter all her life. We stay like this, hand in hand. We have all the time in the world -- 'world without end, amen.' Words we recite by heart when she asks me to say the Rosary with her, the last phrase of the Gloria, the little prayer at the end that puts to rest all the Hail Marys." p. 218-219