We don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day but we do celebrate love, and today is as good a day as any, with all the extra love floating around for many, to share a story from last summer and harken to days of warm sunshine.
It was August 27th. I was writing in my journal at campus Starbucks, enjoying the leisure of the waning weeks of summer before classes resumed in my sophomore year.
The barista was handsome. I would let him catch me looking at him and smile bashfully. I wrote about our subtle flirtation as it unfolded across the shop. My coffee grew cold and stale. I moved outside to the patio, into the sun, and waited for him to follow.
With a feigned air of bold confidence, he invited me to a baseball game that afternoon. I accepted.
Our affection grew quickly into love. Together we enjoyed the onset of Oregon autumn, crunching leaves on strolls beside the Willamette river and perusing the Saturday Market. There he bought me a bouquet of sunflowers.
A trophy of my smitten, sentimental bliss, the sunflowers shone on the dining table of my first tiny apartment. I cut their woody stems to coax additional days from their blooms, drinking in their polleny scent. When the petals curled, I inverted the bunch to hang from my closet doorknob.
As our relationship blossomed and the maple trees turned gloriously yellow and orange and the sunflowers dried in my bedroom, their wonderfully distinct smell left a permanent, euphoric mark on my memory.
• • •
Eight years later. Yesterday. My husband drove us south to the highway on an excursion to a market in the mountains. Our baby babbled from the back seat. As we passed by a fallow corn field, he suddenly veered left across the road onto a dirt turnout.
“What are you doing?” I exclaimed, startled.
“Hold on,” he said, prepared for my outburst.
He took the multi-tool from the glove compartment and hopped out, leaving the AC running. I turned to talk to our little one in her mirror. Less than a minute later, he returned clutching a leggy bouquet of wild sunflowers.
By the time we arrived home hours later, each warm bud had wilted beyond salvation. Rather than tossing them into the compost, though, I trimmed them into a short, limp handful and hung them upside-down from the fireplace mantel.
Their value, to me, is in their wonderful scent and its promise of fall, its remembrance of history, and its tribute to lasting love.