By Kristine Jepsen

March 18, 2019


Yesterday my uncle Russ, my dad's older brother, texted me a video of a peony bush in bloom. The plant isn't his—he left the farm where it grows, in the remains of his mother's garden, to become a middle-school band director a half-century ago. But he can't stop tending things, a dogged farmer.

These days he’s expert with fast-maturing walnut trees. He’s planted them in neat rows on the home farm, though no one lives there, and the yard light shines only on lumbering raccoons and whitetail that nibble the feral hedge, brazen. Russ isn’t in the video he shot, but I know it’s vigil he keeps. “See you on the other side, brother,” he had got out, before his voice caught, addressing my dad, dying. Each clasped the other’s wrist, before their hands fell away. Russ knows I know the farm might go, too, as Parkinson’s steals his grip on it.

Through my phone-portal, the velvety peonies rustle against generous leaves. My grandmother grew the cuttings from her mother’s garden, and Russ and I share her devotion to anticipating these buds, plumping in tender June, pink and pinker still, then brief in their heady frill. She would have taken in one of the last flowers, like these, to float in a cut-crystal bud bowl on her kitchen table. Its petals would have wilted one by one to the water’s surface, sick-sweet, but lasting a day longer, maybe two, after the rest had scattered on the breeze.

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