Where the Orange Blossoms Are

Very few of my grandmother’s possessions survived the devastating fire that destroyed her clapboard home well after her eightieth birthday: four dining room chairs, a side table, and her front porch rocker. I am reminded how fortunate I am that two unique treasures of hers made their way into my hands. One she had already given me years before the blaze erupted and erased a lifetime of hard work. When I was thirteen years of age, she discovered my love of words and invited me to gaze into the hiding place in the bottom drawer of her bureau. A tattered Yahtzee box, bound with a rubber band, secreted dozens of newspaper and magazine clippings of her published poetry—faded and torn, with brittle tape flaking from well-intended repairs. Now as a grandmother myself, I pull that worn box from my own dresser from time to time, in an effort to feel her presence and bring her memory forward.

The other treasure I possess was promised to me when I was a child. It became mine at the age of twenty-five, as I stood beside her lifeless body on the day she was laid to rest. In 1929, after dating for nine long years, my grandfather finally made the commitment to make her his wife. On that day he carefully placed a thin rose gold wedding band onto her tiny finger. He spent the rest of his life by her side and was often caught smiling at her from across the room.

That ring, a symbol of his love and affection, now belongs to me.

My grandmother was a wonderful storyteller, and I loved hearing the exquisitely spoken tales of her childhood, youth, and beyond. I would gently turn the ring around her finger as her words transported me through her life, as though I was experiencing each adventurous detail walking by her side. More than once she told me about her wedding ring and how, as a young bride, she marveled at the intricate orange blossoms etched on its surface. She had grown up in poverty, and it was the prettiest thing she had ever owned.

Life was not easy in the early 1900’s. Her father died before she was old enough to remember him, leaving her mother alone to raise six little girls. She worked the family farm alongside her sisters until her mother remarried and brought a father figure into the home. With stronger hands available to plow and plant, the girls could attend school more regularly. Once she completed sixth grade and was expected to leave schooling behind, my grandmother begged her stepfather to allow her to continue. At that young age she had enough wisdom to know the value of education long before society realized its worth. He reluctantly agreed, and she went on to finish at the top of her class, one of only two girls who graduated.

Her quest for knowledge went far beyond the classroom walls, and her intelligence was no secret to those who knew her as a young lady, or to me as her granddaughter many years later. While she could cite facts, figure math problems, and pen beautiful words, she had the ability to see beyond the obvious—a quality I could not ignore. Her quiet patience when my emotions seemed too large to hold gave way to wise words, which caused me to pause and consider my true feelings.

Many of my most beautiful childhood memories include time spent sitting on her front porch on warm summer nights. I would run my fingers along the surface of her narrow wedding band, worn smooth from years of wear, and wonder how the orange blossoms might have looked all those years ago. I would listen intently as she drew her life’s story with a poetic paintbrush that made even the cicadas hush when her voice splashed across the night’s moonlit canvas. Her clever stories left me to ponder the messages that lay between the lines and how they might apply to my own life.

Today, one of my most cherished treasures is my grandmother’s wedding ring, once adorned with delicate flowers. I let my finger pass across its polished surface and now know the answer. Orange blossoms were dropped along her life’s long journey, in petals of wisdom sprinkled among her children, grandchildren, and friends who loved her dearly. They lie among the now-empty pews of a rustic wooden church and float on the wind of the heartfelt praise she lifted heavenward. Yes, I would love to have seen them engraved there in the gold, yet find their absence even more beautiful.

I know where the orange blossoms are.

Wendy Lipham lives in Mobile, Alabama, where she has taught interview and communication skills for the past twenty years. Having heard God’s call to work with women who have experienced sexual trauma, she facilitates the “Beautifully Broken” story group in her community. She enjoys playing the piano, needlepoint, and listening to the laughter of six precious grandchildren with her husband.