I nearly flipped right past the perfume ad in the magazine. I don’t wear perfume, and when those little samples explode I get a headache. If the Internet has been good for nothing else, it has saved migraine sufferers a lot of grief when they just want to read a feature about lifestyles of the rich and famous, or rich and saintly, or rich and hostile. But I stopped on this ad because of the list of ingredients.
Jasmine, rose and gillyflower. There really is such thing as a gillyflower.
My mom used to sing all the time. Whether she was dusting, cooking, baking or gardening — all the time. They were always songs from her childhood, which became the music of mine along with a little sprinkling of Dean Martin and Mario Lanza. She loved me a bushel and a peck; I was her sunshine; I was the apple of her eye. We had a piano, and my mom could play anything by ear using two hands. Her hands were light and graceful, her bracelet clinking against her watch like an added musical instrument. After a year of lessons I could manage a song about swans that I plodded through with movements that can only be described as goats wearing galoshes. In mud. The rest of us were not very musically inclined but her gentle singing was the backdrop of my youth.
I didn’t think about it much until the boys were born, and I found myself singing the same songs to them, minus Dean Martin and Mario Lanza. My less-than-dulcet tones were met with mixed reviews: I remember Christopher, at about age four, asking if I could not sing anymore. He said it gently, as if I was the toddler, but I got the message. Ari on the other hand, used to ask me to sing him “his” songs when he was tiny, but not too loud so nobody would know. I loved him a bushel and a peck; he was my sunshine; he was the apple of my eye. Christopher would have been but he turned out to be a music critic.
My mom played fast and loose with lyrics, improvising on the spot to personalize any song, sort of like a rapper in a tweed skirt with a roller set. My own special song was called You’re My Raineyflower. I have no idea how it went, only that it was my theme song. Then I overheard her singing You’re My Rozzyflower to my other sister, and in due time, You’re My Gillyflower. My sisters, Roz and Gilly, were listening to bastardized lyrics. I wasn’t sure how to let them know.
As a middle child and therefore the peacekeeper in the family, I used to just smile and nod when I heard my Mom singing the wrong lyrics. The world is a tough enough place without realizing that your mother might be lying to you about some things. I let it go, just another secret between her and her Raineyflower.
Until yesterday, when I saw the perfume ad. Gillyflower. I ran to the computer. There is no Raineyflower. There is no Rozzyflower. My mother’s name was Iris, so she could afford to be handing out flower names with little regard for veracity. I still have the gorgeous irises growing in my yard that Dad grew for her, and every spring I’m reminded of her gentle presence, her beauty that lasted a lifetime and her wanton disregard for the truth. I’m sure it could have been worse. For all I know she might have considered giving my Dad a personal song.