In our office the peonies are softly unfurling as they warm up from the coolers. We work amongst the brick dinosaur bones of Maine industry, but we are granted this occasional abundance of beauty, and the richness of ephemeral glory.
When I was a young girl, I remember going to the Penny Fairs at Lake Street Elementary. I remember the excitement of being in the sunshine with all seven of us and not knowing what would be set up around any corner of the brick building.
My mother would do her turn in the dunk tank, while my younger brothers inexplicably loved the peanut roll, smooshing their faces into the gym mat as they tried to push the peanuts with their noses. My sisters and I would tug my father’s hands as we raced inside to explore what was being offered in the classrooms. One of us could haul on his thumb, and another on his other fingers, and he would drift in our direction, following his tugboats in braids and bangs.
One year we climbed to the top of the stairs in the hallway, where, like a fortune teller, a woman appeared with a table set up where she crafted tissue paper flowers. We girls barely kept from hopping as we watched her create these incredible confections of paper layer petals and pipe cleaner stems, and although she made paper daffodils, roses, and tulips, nothing less than the full glory of paper peonies would do. We didn’t know their names, we just knew they looked like the flower ballerinas in The Nutcracker. On our way home we carefully held them away from our bodies so as not to crush them if we tripped on the crooked sidewalks.
We were mesmerized, the boys included, and the magical part was that they maintained their form for over a week, before gently deflating into paper again. The next time Lake Street had a children’s fair, we beelined it inside, dragging our family behind us. At the top of the stairs, there were no tables, no flowers, no art. We looked at all the tables and activity areas, but all we could find was a different woman making paper parasols (which were also wondrous and had their day).
My mother, who is our own personal Mary Poppins, brought home craft supplies a few days later, and set about teaching herself, and the five of us, how to make paper flowers. We came close, but we could never replicate the beauty of those first paper peonies. On our flowers you could clearly see the tiered layers of tissue paper, whereas the lady’s flowers were an incredible swirl that didn’t flatten. You may like the haircut you give yourself, but it will never make you marvel at the mirror the way you do the afternoon you come home from the hairdresser’s.
I’m 29 now, and no longer pick hair ribbons and tights to go with my dresses everyday. But I do get to stop when I’m on my way to out to the warehouse to look in wonder at what I could never create. The richness of colors, the intricacy of form, the abundance that will not last–these are the luxuries we are afforded. And like the paper flowers we put on our top shelves to save them from childhood rough handling, these too will gently swoon and fade.
These peonies, the real deal, come from Green Gardens Farm in St. Albans. And though I’m 29, I’m even more entranced by the sheer lushness than I ever was by the paper version. They pulled that little girl who was a faerie princess for Halloween 5 years in a row right out from behind that El Camino driving, 6 ft rowing badass who runs the warehouse around here.
And if that ain’t a marvel, I don’t know what is.