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by Maryetta Akenbom
A hundred years ago in a small town in southeast Texas, Annie planted a rose garden. She had recently moved to Texas from the East Coast, and she wasn’t yet attuned to the quirks of the south Texas weather, but she did what she could. She had brought with her some strong plants, and she put them in the ground on the east side of her house and cared for them meticulously.
Annie adored her roses, and conversed with them all the time. She had no children and her husband spent all his time managing his business, so she had little to do except keep house and tend to those roses.
One by one, the rose plants faded and appeared to die. Annie was devastated. Only one bush survived, her least favorite, and it did not look healthy. It would not show its cream-colored, almost-but-not-quite white, bloom.
One day an old cowboy came ambling along on his broken-down pony. He saw Annie working in her rose garden, trying to coax the dead and dying plants back to life.
“Ma’am,” he said, “pardon me for addressing you. I don’t know you, but I know something about roses.”
Annie looked up at him, and then, embarrassed, turned her eyes away.
“You know, roses don’t take well to this climate. They have to be convinced they can make it.”
“Please go away,” said Annie. “You are disturbing me.”
“I don’t mean to. I just want those roses to live.”
“Oh, so do I! I wish I knew what was wrong.”
“Listen, ma’am, I just live down the road apiece. I’m gonna ask my wife to come talk to you. Will that be all right?
Annie nodded, and the cowboy went on his way.
Katie came bustling along the road an hour later. Annie was still working in the rosebed.
“Good morning, I’m Katie,” she said. “My man Jake said he scared you. He’s just a big ol’ pussycat.”
Annie looked up and gave Katie a small smile, just a twitch of the lips. “Thank you for coming.”
“Ma’am, Jake knows something about roses. He loves them. If I came with him, would you let him work on your garden for a bit?”
“All right. I’m Annie. Could you come tomorrow morning, before it gets too hot? I’ll make some lemonade.”
The next morning Annie and Katie sat in the house drinking lemonade. Jake immediately took his glass outside and began working in the rose garden.
For several mornings, the two came to Annie’s house, and Jake went to work in the garden. Then Jake came alone one day.
“Katie says she’s feeling poorly this morning,” he said. “Hope you don’t mind if I just continue working with these roses.”
“Go right ahead. I think they’re looking better.”
“Of course they are. You just have to know roses.”
Jake kept coming back, sometimes with Katie, sometimes by himself. He always accepted a glass of lemonade or another cool drink, but never seemed to want anything else, not even Annie’s company. The one sickly rose no longer looked sickly. The ones which had looked dead were taking on some color.
In a few months, the healthier rose had a beautiful pastel bloom, and the others had buds. All were full of new green leaves.
“Jake,” said Annie one day, “what do you do to the roses to bring them back to life? It’s like a miracle.”
“No miracle, Annie. Like I said, you just have to know roses.”
“Well, can you show me how you care for them?”
“No special way.”
“Please tell me. Why do they grow for you and die when I care for them?”
“I know them.”
“You keep saying that. What do you know?”
“Well, for one thing, I know a rose is proud.”
“Hmm,” said Annie. “What’s it got to be proud of if it’s dying?”
“That’s just the thing. You have to remind it that it’s a rose, and that it’s proud.”
“How do you do that?”
“You remind it of its proud cousins.”
“How, Jake, how?”
“Come with me. Sit here by the rosebed and listen to me.”
Jake began humming. Annie did not recognize the tune.
Then she heard him say, “I’ve told you all about your fine family many times. I want to remind you of what happens when you lose your pride.
“There was once a rose bed where every one of the hundreds of plants had a different color. Oh, it was glorious! They would all bloom at the same time, but some would come out a little earlier, and some would stay a little later. They were so proud of themselves!
“The gardener was also proud of his rose garden. But one day the gardener got sick and couldn’t come to care for his roses. They said to themselves, ‘We don’t need him, we are proud and beautiful. Everyone will admire us whether or not we have a gardener.’
“Well, that didn’t happen. The garden became overgrown with weeds, and the weeds began to snuff out the plants. One by one, ashamed of their appearance among the weeds, they lost interest in living. Soon there was only one plant left. It, too, was proud, but it knew it was the last of its fellows. What to do?
“The last rosebush decided it would put on a display which would show the world its beauty and pride. It would choose an entirely new color. Thinking back, it soon realized that almost all rose colors had been represented in the old, weed-clogged garden, except one. The last rose would be—yellow!
“Yellow. A bright, sunny color, to match the bright, sunny place where it grew. It chose well.
“An important man rode by the ruined rose garden in his carriage one day. Looking out, he frowned at the weed patch. Then he saw the yellow rose.
“’What a proud beauty you are!’ he said.
“He stopped the carriage and went to look at the rose. ‘Yellow rose, you have saved all your fellows. I’m going to send another gardener to help you all grow.’
“The important man of course was the governor of Texas. The rose? Well, that rose was the Yellow Rose of Texas!”
Annie said, “Why, you just told them a story!”
“Sure, but it’s a true story.”
“How did that make a difference?
“Like I said, you have to appeal to their pride. The story catches their interest, wakes them up, and then when you remind them of their proud heritage and their gorgeous relatives, they take notice and feel the challenge. They come back to life.”
Jake bent over the rose garden again, humming. “Ta da dum dum dum da dum dum….”
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