Last week, while attending the burial of my aunts, I noticed that it was May in the Midwest, which means that the peonies are blooming. Next to lilacs, peonies are my favorite flower. They are huge and lush and smell like a million different kinds of sweet. They are a nearly perfect thing. Cemeteries around here are just chock full of peonies because they bloom right around Memorial Day, making them a ready-made grave decoration, and I made a mental note to take Coco, my little dog, for a walk in my local cemetery soon – not because The Puffball loves to take walks, but because I was planning on scoring me a major peony bouquet for the house. Before you recoil in horror, let me explain: My own peony plants had to be moved to make way for the new fence, and they didn’t set any blooms. I don’t have my own peonies this year, therefore, I am relying on the generosity of the dead. I know people think that picking flowers in a cemetary is questionable behavior, but let me be clear: I am not taking flower arrangements off of graves; I am picking the flowers off of plants that happen to be on graves.
I got my start in flower thievery a long, long time ago, when I was living in Austin. For a few months one year I roomed with another woman in a small, roach-infested duplex. For some strange reason, our shitbox little house was located right in the middle of old Austin opulence, in the Pease Park mansion district. This duplex was so badly infested with roaches we called it the Roach Motel, and in order to cook anything you first had to light the oven and get it hot enough to make the roaches run out. Sleeping was an exercise in bravery and more than once I woke up to find a cockroach scurrying across my leg, or neck or some other body part.
In Central Texas, there is a short window of time when the weather is absolutely beautiful and the flowers bloom like crazy. After that, the average daily temperature spikes up to about 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and all plant life shrivels up and appears dead, much like the desert. Our own yard was perpetually void of much plant life year round – the yard contained a few patches of St. Augustine grass and that was about it. Nothing would grow at our house and it’s likely that the ever-increasing population of cockroaches just simply consumed all of our outdoor plants in their day-to-day forays out of the stove to look for more food. My roommate and I, in an effort to distract ourselves from the roaches and bring some beauty into our squalid little hovel, took to sneaking out at night to pick the neighbor’s flowers. Our rich neighbors had plenty of great flowers, so we figured why not? We would sneak out into the night with scissors in hand, running from house to house, snipping off tulip blooms, gladiolas, daffodils or whatever we could find. Then we’d come back and turn those flowers into pretty floral arrangements and place them all over the house. It certainly perked up our lives and I personally don’t think the homeowners even noticed that anything was missing – we were careful to steal equally from everyone.
I resumed my life of flower theivery a few years later after moving back to the Midwest. One day, as I was driving over to my mother’s, I passed by a cemetery that had just scads of lilac bushes that were in FULL BLOOM. Not having a lilac bush of my own at the time, and knowing that mom’s lilacs had been badly frostbitten, I stopped and picked a whole shitload of lilacs for the both of us. Much to my surprise, when I told my family members where I found these great lilacs, they were shocked and horrified.
“You mean you TOOK them from the CEMETARY?”
“Well, it’s not like I stole somebody’s flower arrangement. They were still on the bush. I PICKED THEM OFF THE BUSH!”I said, wanting to be clear about that.
“But still… the cemetery? How could you?”
I get the picture – you don’t approve.
Even though I now know most people find it perverse to pick flowers in a cemetery, my desire to have a large peony arrangement in my house was much stronger than the social stigma associated with my method of procurement. So today I hooked little Coco up to his leash, put a pair of scissors in my pocket, and set off on my mission. I parked my car in a place close to a lot of peony bushes so I could gather my bounty quickly, and after walking the dog, I snipped flowers. I got white ones and red ones and pink ones – all the different colors that peonies come in – two great fistfuls of the sweetest smelling flower on the planet. The trick is to just take a few from each bush so you can’t really tell any are missing. I worked real quick, just in case anyone happened to come by and wanted to know just what the hell I was doing and I would have to make up some lame excuse like “oh my dog peed on these so I’m picking them off.”
You may be asking “Why not just wait until dark to steal flowers if you’re so worried about what other people might think??” Actually there are two very good reasons: First – that would mean I’d have to change my nightly routine, which would really screw with my OCD tendencies. Second – fear of zombies. It would just be my luck that picking flowers in a cemetery at night would piss off the undead, and they would come lurching after me, tearing the flesh from my bones and leaving nothing but a pair of scissors and a bunch of torn-up peonies. I’d like to see Without A Trace explain THAT one. “Well folks, it looks like we’ve got us another zombie killing. Boy, those cemetary flower thieves really seem to piss off the living dead…”
Anyway, now I’ve got my peonies, and they smell and look fabulous. I don’t think Hank Johnson: born 1887, died 1942, or Twila Rupp: born 1927, died 1975 really care that I picked a few of their damn flowers. They had plenty to spare and most importantly, it brought joy to MY life. Next year, after my own peonies are rejuenated, I’m hoping to be able to retire completely from the flower theivery business . I’m getting too old for a life of crime and my nerves are shot. I fear the wrath of the undead and am tired of people shooing me away from their flower beds – it’s embarrassing. In the meantime I will enjoy this last stolen bouquet, and remember the good old days.