Pentecost Roses

Pentecost Roses June 1, 2020


We went for another hike this afternoon.

It was cooler than it’s been, and the sunshine was glorious. That used to be rarer at this time of year in Ohio– summers were swampier, but we’ve had droughts the past few years. It was supposed to rain over the weekend, but it didn’t for more than a few minutes, and now it’s sunny.

Rosie and I hiked down the ravine again, under the green canopy, past the may apples which are speckled and nearly dead. The poke weeds are much higher. There must be a tulip tree somewhere in those woods, because its blossoms were all over the path– but when I looked up, all I could see were maples and black walnuts.

We admired several fat squirrels. Squirrels are rarer in Steubenville than where I grew up in Columbus. Columbus, or at least the Clintonville neighborhood where I grew up, is nearly infested with big, fat, unabashed squirrels. They help themselves to bird feeders and chatter on every branch. There was a park near the grocery store on Indianola Avenue where the squirrels were so bold, they’d run under the table to wait for crumbs if anybody brought a picnic. But in LaBelle, the neighborhood where we live, I rarely see squirrels. We only see them when we go on hikes.

The creek was very low, so we didn’t stay and splash this time. We walked on exposed moss that was drying out, and then we hiked up the trail. Afterwards, we played hide and seek in the cemetery. Rosie is better at this than she used to be. I closed my eyes and gave her a full thirty seconds– and then I absolutely couldn’t find her, for just a bit too long to be comfortable, and then she popped up behind a lichen-dotted stone labeled 1897. 

The headstone next to her hiding place was kicked over. Rosie stared intently at the second piece of granite underneath the one that had once been vertical.

“Is that his COFFIN?” she asked.

“No, no,” I said. “That’s just the base of the stone. The coffin is underground. Graves are always at least six feet down.”

“Six feet,” said Rosie as we wandered on. “That’s how far we’re supposed to stand apart now.”

We came to a few stately peony bushes planted over another old grave. Peonies are some of my favorite flowers. I’ve heard them called “Pentecost Roses,” because they’re said to always bloom right before Pentecost. But this year, somehow, they’re a little late. One bush was blooming– white peonies, with streaks of blood red in the center.  Those are my favorite kind. The pink ones were still buds, ruby and green spheres that looked like marbles. My grandmother on my father’s side had a pink peony bush out front of her house in another Columbus neighborhood. Every year the flowers would die down to the ground, and I couldn’t believe they’d come up again. But every year they would pop up, and bloom at about Pentecost. That meant it was almost time for the pool to be filled for the year, and we’d eat our Sunday dinner outside on the porch together instead of inside in the dining room whenever the weather was good.

I leaned in and inhaled that cloying fragrance of the red and white Pentecost Roses.  Flowers never smell exactly like ladies’ perfume, but a peony comes close.

It smelled like a world that used to be.

It smelled like grandparents, summer, swimming pools, and Columbus.

We eventually got to the shopping center. “Masks on! You know the rules. Wear your mask and we can get Wendy’s to take home.”

I hadn’t brought her dinosaur-print mask this time. I only had two plain masks, made for grown-ups, with ribbons to tie behind the head instead of  loops over the ears. No matter how tight I tied it, it kept flopping loose, so she had to hold it in place with one hand. Having a least favorite mask is not an experience I had as a child, growing up in Columbus.

We selected ripe peaches and a few other things. Rosie was helpful, dispensing a squirt of hand sanitizer onto my hands after I used the debit pad. And then we went to Wendy’s.  This was the first time I’d been inside that Wendy’s since before the lockdown. The place has brand new plexiglass barriers in front of the registers, and all the employees are in black face masks with the Wendy’s logo on the front.

They had no beef in stock, which pleased Rosie, who doesn’t like being made to eat meat. I ordered fries and chicken salads that were too expensive.  We got out just in time for the bus.

When we got home, Rosie went out to play, and I ate my salad in front of the computer, watching the news.

The National Guard are in Columbus.

They are in Franklinton, the district that used to be called The Bottoms, where the other side of my family once lived– the Irish side, the Catholic side, the ones who could never have afforded a swimming pool or a place to plant Pentecost Roses. My great grandmother was rescued out of a third story slum apartment window in Franklinton, by a stranger in a row boat, during the 1913 flood.

They are at the campus of the Ohio State University, where I once took a field trip. We went to Orton Hall to see the fossils, and then we took a tour of all the modern art in the Wexner Center.

They are downtown. Last night, downtown, the police cleared the peaceful protesters out with wooden bullets and tear gas hours before curfew. I know there have been violent riots in Columbus, but there are also peaceful protests, and the police have been brutalizing both for days. There has been tear gas and pepper spray, rubber and wooden bullets, police punching protesters and worse.

I watched a video of the National Guard’s vehicles driving downtown. I recognized the church in the background– Saint Joseph’s Cathedral. That’s the place where my parents were married and where I was baptized, where I’ve been more than a hundred times. My earliest memories are of that cathedral– slung over the shoulder of my father’s best gray suit, staring up at the organ pipes.

There are so many people that I miss in Columbus, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be back.

I continued to watch the news as a man incapable of gravitas posed gravely with a bible in front of a church, promising violence and killing to the protesters all over the country.

I went out to shovel compost over the potatoes and play with soap bubbles with Rosie.

There was a great, loud boom so startling I yelled involuntarily, but it was only a careless neighbor playing with fireworks for the third time in a week.

And then it was night.

And now it is night.

And I don’t know what happens next.


Image via Pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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