Jones County, NC – I know you have seen them: The brilliant yellow and white flowers that bloom with gratuitous beauty along the highway or in the woods near a barely standing chimney. These flowers are signs that somebody lived there and loved beauty.
There is a power in their scent to evoke a memory so clear that it almost re-creates the long ago moment. Every one has his own triggers. For me, boxwood is my grandmother's yard in Virginia. Burning rubber is my first flat tire. The aroma of oatmeal cookies beginning to brown is my Mother's Kitchen. And the sweet citrusy fragrance of a special flower is the childhood glory of so much beauty that picking a double handful didn't seem to diminish their number.
When I was a girl, our side yard would bloom with hundreds of yellow bulbs in the spring. They were not the usual trumpeted daffodils or white narcissus that you may have seen naturalized around the old homestead. Instead they had multiple clear yellow flowers on a single stalk, and the sweetest fragrance I have ever known
We called them Bell Prairie Jonquils because my mother had dug up a clump of these bulbs from my father's home in the Mississippi delta when she was a bride and planted them in her yard. My father's mother had brought these flowers with her from her home across the Yazzo River when she married long before,
But after I grew up, the field of flowers disappeared. Mother thought it had been mowed at the wrong time two years in a row when she was sick. The bulbs hadn't had their foliage to replenish their energy, so they died.
I had always meant to transplant a clump of these talismans to my yard for the heady smell that glorious excess of beauty, but I had put it off and now it was too late.
So I began scouring bulb catalogues and established gardens, pushing my face into likely clumps of flowers--- only to always be disappointed. Lots of flowers look similar, but none had the right fragrance. Many actually smelled bad.
Then one spring about 15 years ago I was walking with my children in the town of Oriental, and we saw a large clump of bright yellow in a drainage ditch beside a vacant lot. The flowers looked right. I put my face down into the blossoms and inhaled deeply. Whoosh! Home! Glory! The scent even left a lemony taste on my tongue that I had forgotten. It was like honeysuckles married to Orange blossoms. These were my jonquils
So now I have Belle Prairie jonquils blooming in my yard. But could these North Carolina bulbs really be the same ones I remember so vividly? I think it is just possible
My family like most Southerners dates back to colonial pioneers, people who restlessly moved west for opportunity and adventure. My grandmother's family like many others moved from Virginia, to North Carolina, to Tennessee, into Mississippi all by the early 1800s, and as the naturalized daffodils throughout the South and Midwest prove these pioneer women took flower bulbs with them to make sure there was beauty to feed their souls.
So yes it is just possible that my grandmother's grand mother brought bulbs from Tennessee that had been brought from North Carolina. It's possible and that's enough for me.
I tried to tell this story to my grandchildren who were here for Easter to get them interested in this fragrance that means so much to me. They wanted to play basketball instead. Maybe they will tell their children that the nose crinkling smell of a sweaty leather basketball always reminds them of Granny Jenny's house!