There is magic associated with springtime in the south. It is called Azalea. These beautiful flowers dot the bush unassumingly. They behave like beautiful young girls who pretend to be coy. They have perfected the art of modesty while all the while being completely aware of the spectacle they create.
In hours just before the sun begins its journey to regain its throne, powerful in the Southern sky, the azaleas sleep. The crickets sing the lullaby and the mosquitoes have not yet been forced to hide from the heat of the day. The dew begins to collect lightly on the leaves. A gentle cleansing for the fair maidens by the attending servants. As the sun warms the ground, the blooms begin to do their dance. They pretend to be shy. It looks as if they never want to open, self conscious of what they will look like when exposed. But it is the game that the sun and the Azaleas often play.
They are like teenagers who have just discovered the opposite sex and have begun their flirtation with desire. The flowers pretend to protest and the sun pretends to be convinced. So the courting continues. Eventually, and with great deliberation, the blooms open and the squares downtown burst forth with color. The variety of the sight proves that the rainbow is not the only spectacular natural creation.
They sit there, gliding in the wind, proud of themselves. They know what sparks they provide. They are the backdrop for the historical tour. They are the vision out the window at work that reminds of a simpler time. They are the special something that makes the picnic with your lover special. They are the reason you chose to say your vows and kiss the bride outdoors.
Azaleas are the roses of the south and they guard their title with fierceness. The blossoms appear to be modest in their brilliance but are boisterous in their display. Do not let the subtleness fool you, for they are cunning. They are jealous little beauties and will not settle for anything other than center stage. Without regret or remorse – and with complete intention – they will steal your heart. If you encounter them on vacation, they will be the first thing you mention when you return home. If you have grown up around the flower, they will cast that spell that ensures they are what you miss when away.
They smile and preen. Anxious to be for you whatever you want them to be. The one beautiful thing in your day that makes you smile. Their effort is tireless. And they always try harder if they have been picked by the hands of a child. It is as if the pudginess in the young fingers provides a second life for the flower off the bush. They find the ability to make the color brighter, the smell sweeter and the enchantment deeper.
You would think that the flower would be devastated. Plucked from the root of life and thus condemned to wilt and die prematurely. One would think that such a proud flower would balk at the displacement. That it would be in revolt in spite of itself and wither to dust immediately rather than endure a slower, less graceful death. But the azaleas glow and rise to an occasion that they have waited for since the beginning of the blossom. Like an adolescent girl that has just been chosen for her first dance. They know they will soon be in the place that makes all their efforts worth while. They have begun the portion of the journey that takes them to that coveted spot. The spot of adoration and appreciation that only a child can provide.
The fat fingers hold tight to the stem and pull and tug till the blossom gives way. The child squeals with delight and places the flower delicately to his nose to feel the tickle of the soft petals. The smell is sweet and the child will not realize for quite some years that this smell has infected him for the rest of his life. The child’s only concern right now is the destination. With an energy reserved only for children, he dashes towards the house as fast as his small legs will carry him.
“Momma, Momma, Momma!” he shouts as he throws open the screen door with one hand and an outstretched flower in the other. The azalea knows the moment of glory is near. Momma looks down and sees the gift. The child’s wide eyes look up, searching with anticipation for what he is sure will happen next. Momma smiles with her whole face, gently accepts the token and kisses the child on his round, sweaty face. The child’s mission is successfully completed. With one movement and full of satisfaction, he is off again to resume his exploration of the southern outdoors. Momma turns around and places the azalea in that spot. The one spot that all flowers long to find. The place of unconditional love, admiration, and devotion. That stained glass vase in his Momma’s kitchen window.