Clair Dawson gave herself one last critical appraisal in the hall mirror. Her appearance was, as usual, impeccable. Her lavender dress was the perfect complement to her violet eyes. She pushed her silvery gray hair back over her ears, just enough to expose the gold earrings with a touch of lavender trim that were a gift to her from her eldest granddaughter for one of the many birthdays that had long since been forgotten.
With a nod of approval, she pulled her ivory, lace shawl up over her shoulders and gave the ever present flowers in her hair a comforting pat. Today she had not one, but two roses in her hair, the second being very small and hardly noticeable. Those flowers had become her trademark. Everyone in town knew Mrs. John Dawson by those flowers.
That’s how she was known: Mrs. John Dawson. Everything from her telephone listing to her personalized stationery showed her identity as Mrs. John Dawson. Unlike many of the younger generation, she believed a woman was a husband’s wife and should always carry her husband’s name, not because she thought a woman had to travel on her husband’s successes, but because it was proper.
She was never introduced as Clair Dawson, or ever as just Mrs. Dawson, and especially not just plain Clair, for there was nothing plain about her. You knew just by looking at her that she was someone important. Yet “important” was not the first word that came to mind when you met her. She carried a certain look about her that no one could imitate, a look that one had to be born with, a look that spoke volumes about her confidence, her influence, and her mastery of the social graces. After all, she was the prestigious widow of John Dawson, the late community leader who had passed away seventeen years ago today. Being the widow of John Dawson carried a certain level of responsibility and expectation, and it commanded a certain level of respect. Before she ever left the sanctuary of her home, she made sure to stop at the mirror in the front hall for one last inspection, to be sure that she as carrying out the responsibility as he would have liked.
She had been the perfect successful man’s wife, supporting him in his work, seeing that their three children were raised with proper manners and responsibilities, and serving on various committees and boards in the community. She was always in demand for the various organizations. Not only did having Mrs. John Dawson on your membership roster add a certain level of prestige to whatever the current cause of the day was, but she was well known for being able to get things done.
A few people in the small town of Mitton thought she was putting on airs. Those who knew Mrs. John Dawson knew how untrue that was. She wasn’t one who had to put on airs for she was born with the ability to be at home in any situation. She had hosted visiting dignitaries, political and business, in their large Victorian mansion that he had purchased for their tenth wedding anniversary. Those who were fortunate enough to be on her guest list were in awe of her as she gracefully floated among her guests, making everyone feel as if they were the guest of honor.
She was equally at home in casual slacks at the PTA cookout, serving hot dogs and hamburgers to the crowd, always with the ever present rose in her hair. She would smile at the children who wanted the Rose Lady to serve them their hot dog, and always managed to slip them an extra cookie for dessert. Even when she was on her hands and knees, working in her many flower beds, she exhibited certain touch of class and elegance that many tried to capture for themselves, but could never quite pull off as naturally as she.
The grandfather clock in the front hall chimed the hour and brought her out of her cloud of reminiscence. It was 11:00 and she had many things to do this morning.
Today she had to stop at the cemetery to place her traditional bouquet of flowers on John’s grave. She would do it alone, although it had taken many bouts with her children to enable her to make this homage without them. They told her she shouldn’t go visit his grave alone, that it was dangerous for her to be there by herself. She defied their opinions and went by herself once a week. They often tried to tell her how to run her life since their father’s death.
“I ran my life for years before you were born and I can do it now, “ she had firmly told them. She could not and would not admit to being lonely at night, especially when she walked up the wide staircase at the end of the day.
They couldn’t understand. Kids never did. They couldn’t understand that after all of those years of being with a man like John Dawson, that she couldn’t share such a private, intimate moment with anyone, not even for her own children. This was the time to talk with him and share her triumphs that she carried out in his name. Once a week, she took a small bouquet of flowers to his grave and shared her stories with him.
But today was different. Today was seventeen years of being alone. It was seventeen years of sitting in her parlor (for yes, she was one who still called it a parlor), drinking her tea and silently crying for the man she had once shared her most private fears and accomplishments. It was seventeen years of aching for his comforting hugs of reassurance when she thought she just couldn’t’ do it anymore.
Picking up a bouquet of flowers she had cut from her prize winning flower beds just that morning she left through her front door, double checking the lock before descending the porch steps.
“Good morning, Mrs. Dawson!” called out her neighbor, Mrs. Adkins.
“Good morning, Mrs. Adkins!” Clair responded. “Your tea roses are looking lovely this year!”
“Only because of your advice on winterizing. I know that’s what made the difference. They do look lovely, don’t they!” Mrs. Adkins beamed at herself and the improvement of her roses.
“Roses need to be cared for as if they are your children,” Clair told her. “Have a good day!”
Mrs. Adkins wished her the same and returned to straightening the edging of her flower beds.
Clair loved the walk to the cemetery. She loved walking through the small town of Mitton, especially this time of year when the flowers were in bloom. As she walked past the John Dawson Memorial park (named in memory of her husband partly because of his great contribution toward the quality of life in Mitton, and partly because of her great financial contribution to insure his memory), the sounds of the children playing the playground drifted out to her. This was the most precious sound in the world to her. Children were what life was all about. She had no patience for those who had to have their career first and children second. What were they thinking? The gift of a child’s smile was the greatest gift God could give a couple. She took her head as she walked on past the park, knowing she would never understand this generation even if she lived another eighty-three years.
The walk to the cemetery took a little longer these days. Her children were constantly after her to let them drive her. “Just call me, mother,” her daughter Lee Ann was always telling her. “I can come over and drive you anytime you want to go.” Clair always promised that she would call if the walk got to be too much for her, but she had never called. If it took a little longer to walk, then it took a little longer, that’s all.
She walked through Mitton’s small downtown area, waving to Terri Browning and her four year old son Michael, as they came out of the library. Clair often saw Terri and her son at the library. It was a sight she was proud to see. “Now there’s a mother who has the interest of her child at heart!” she often thought to herself.
Terri waived back to her. “Good morning, Mrs. Dawson!”
Michael liked seeing Clair. “Mommy, that’s The Rose Lady, isn’t it?” he would always ask her.
“Yes, Michael, it is,” Terri would tell him.
“She’s pretty. You should wear a flower, Mommy. You could be as pretty as The Rose Lady, too!”
Terri laughed, knowing that no one would ever try to imitate Mrs. Dawson’s trademark of wearing flowers in her hair simply because it couldn’t be done as successfully. “Maybe, Michael. Maybe. Now, hold Mommy’s hand as we cross the street!”
Michael grabbed tight to Terri’s hand as they crossed the street, but he was looking back at Clair.
“There she goes, Mommy! There goes The Rose Lady!”
Clair heard him and smiled to herself. A lot of people called her The Rose Lady. She liked the label. It made her remember what John had told her all those years ago when he gave her the first rose that she ever wore in her hair.
He had unknowingly authored her trademark. When they were just newlyweds, he had brought her a bouquet of flowers with one single rose in the center of the arrangement. He handed her the flowers and, pulling the single rose from the center, gave it to and said, “For all of the flowers that I could give you, none demonstrate the beauty of life like the rose. You are my rose, Clair, and any other flower compared to you cannot give me the same love of life like you. Every time I see a rose, I will think of you.” He had then placed the rose in her hair, behind her ear.
She had cried. No one deserved a man like John Dawson and she worked hard every day to prove her worth.
Ever since that day, she had worn a rose in her hair. No one in town could remember ever seeing Mrs. John Dawson without that trademark being present.
Many of the merchants and shoppers in the small downtown of Mitton nodded and waved to her as she walked by. That’s one reason she had never chosen to leave Mitton. Small town living, where everyone knew everyone else, just couldn’t’ compare to living anywhere in the world. She and John had taken trips to larger cities, some of them vacations, some of them business, and she couldn’t understand why people would live in a big city by choice. There were too many strangers, too many people who didn’t’ have time for a simple “good morning”. She couldn’t live like that. She enjoyed the closeness of a smaller town any day.
She turned south at the town drugstore and headed toward the cemetery. She loved the memories the drugstore held for her. In their dating days, before John had even thought about how big his business would eventually become, they had spent most of their time at the soda counter, sharing a milkshake or a Coca-Cola. Sometimes, when they were feeling extravagant, they would share a banana split and talk about the future when they would be able to afford each of them a banana split every day if they wanted! She often thought of stopping in for one of those banana splits on her way back home, but for some reason she never did.
She knew that around 3:30, Norris’s Drugstore soda counter would be packed with the kids from the high school. She hoped they realized what a rare treat it was for a drugstore to still have a soda counter. It was another of the many simple pleasures in life that was slowly disappearing in a world that seemed to move too fast.
The cemetery was in sight. It was only about three blocks down the hill from the drugstore, right next to the Methodist Church. She would have to remember to stop in and invite Reverend Prader to lunch next week. It had been awhile since she had visited with him and his wife.
She stopped at the entrance to the cemetery. Even after all these years, she hesitated before entering. It never got easier.
John was buried near the center, in the family plot. His parents, two uncles and an aunt were buried there. She always liked the idea that John wasn’t alone. He liked being with people. She liked to think that it was good he had family to talk to when she wasn’t there.
She gently placed her bouquet of flowers on top of his stone. It was getting too hard for her to stoop down and place them on the grave. Her knees worked just fine for walking but they didn’t like to stoop as much as they used to. She didn’t’ want to find herself stuck in a kneeling position alone in the cemetery. John understood. She had explained it to him long ago.
The familiar tear began rolling down her face. Everything she did, she did for him. He was such a good man, providing many jobs for the small town but always remembering the simple things were the most valuable. He set up a foundation to insure the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside, and had donated the land to be held as a preserve for the native plants of the area. Many of the elementary schools took field trips to this preserve and botanists from all over came to study the effects of nature when left alone by man. Both of them had encouraged landscaping of businesses and homes by donating plantings and their own elbow grease, along with their knowledge and expertise.
She missed him. Many of her friends and family had told her, seventeen years ago, that the hurt would go away, but they were wrong. They couldn’t know what it was like to live over 45 years with someone like John. The hurt didn’t go away. Many times it was more present now than it was then. She had missed him when their grandson was born premature and no one knew if he was going to make it. She had needed him then to hold her and reassure her that the baby would be fine.
She smiled as she remembered how foolish she had been to be mad at him for not being there with her. She had cursed him when she went home from the hospital, and he wasn’t there. She had needed him. She sat in his chair by the fireplace and rubbed the arms of the chair, making herself believe that John was holding her. It was comforting to feel the worn leather that had been rubbed soft by years of his use. She could almost make herself believe that he was there, and that made her feel better.
She had fallen asleep in his chair that night and when she awoke the next day she had gone to the hospital to be where she belonged, with her daughter and her grandson. He had been there for her, just like had always been and would always be. She had apologized to him on her next trip to the cemetery. She hadn’t been mad at him since.
Sitting in his chair had become almost a habit. She could sit there for hours and not feel so alone. She was glad she had insisted on keeping the chair.
Arranging the bouquet of flowers so they were perfectly centered on his stone, she told him about her week, how she had the grandchildren spend the weekend, and how they loved going to what they called “Grampa’s park”. She told him about Bob Simpson passing away and assured him that she had sent a respectable flower arrangement to his widow. She would call Barbara later in the week to see how she was doing and maybe have her over for lunch.
When she finished she stood silent for a moment, saying her prayer for him. With a quiet “amen”, she then reached up and pulled the small rose from her hair and placed it in front of her bouquet of flowers. She placed her finger to her lips and then gently pressed those fingers on the small rose she had laid on his stone.
“I love you, John Dawson,” she said and she turned and began her walk home.
She made one stop on her way home, at the Lester Sister’s Card Shoppe, where she bought a sympathy card for Barbara Simpson, and a birthday card for the church organist, Mattie Clarkton. She had selected cards with roses on the front cover for both of them.
She spoke briefly to a couple of people in the shoppe that she knew and went to the register to pay for her cards, where Lillian Lester would take her money, inquire on her health, and wish her a good day.
As she continued her walk home, she decided she would make herself a cup of tea when she got home and would drink it in the parlor. She would skip lunch. She didn’t feel like making anything. She was very, very tired today.
She climbed the steps of her Victorian home and noticed Mrs. Adkins had finished her bed borders, and how lovely they looked.
“I’ll have to be sure to tell her what a wonderful job she did,” she thought to herself as she unlocked her door and went inside.
She placed her purse and keys on the hall table, as she always did when she returned home. Removing her shawl, she headed for the kitchen where she began to make herself some tea. She would hang the shawl up later when she went upstairs. While she waited for the teakettle to whistle, she scanned her shelves to see if she had any crackers. There were a few cookies left that the grandchildren had somehow overlooked, but she wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet. She would have to go to the store tomorrow.
When the teakettle whistled, she poured the hot water over the two teabags that were resting in the china teapot that she had waiting on the tray. Also on the tray was a matching tea cup and saucer, and on another small plate, a slice of lemon. She selected a linen napkin from the drawer, picked up the tray and headed for the parlor.
She placed the tray on the same table she always used, the one nearest to John’s chair. She looked at the chair for a moment, rubbing her hands over the worn, dark leather, remembering how much she used to enjoy watching him read or listening to him talk while he sat there. With a deep sigh, she sat in the chair, feeling a warm feeling of contentment come over her as soon as she sat down. She reached for her teacup and poured a cup of tea, then added the lemon slice. She sat the cup back on the tray to allow it to cool for a moment.
She leaned back in John’s chair. It felt so good, so warm, so loving. It felt as if she were with him again. Sometimes when she slept, she would dream about him, which made her miss him all the more when she awoke. She felt very tired this afternoon. Maybe if she took a nap she would dream about him today.
That thought made her smile. She reached up and pulled the remaining rose out of her hair. She looked at it, stroked its soft petals, inhaled its soft scent, and in a low voice meant only for herself said, “Oh, John. I miss you.”
Still holding the rose, she leaned her head back to the comforting curves of the back of the chair, and decided that on her next trip she would call Lee Ann and ask her to drive her to the cemetery. She was so tired. She closed her eyes. She would rest just a minute before drinking her tea. Maybe just a short nap. She would like seeing him, even if it was only a dream.
The sun began its descent into the horizon and the shadows in the corners of the parlor grew longer. The tea sat untouched and cold. Her trademark flower had fallen from her hand into her lap.
The grandfather clock chimed on every hour and half hour, but no one heard it.
Time had stopped for Mrs. John Dawson.
"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon-instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today.” ----Dale Carnegie
"Love is like a rose. When pressed between two lifetimes it will last forever." ---- Unknown