“I believe you’re an abelia.” Nannie said to me as she slipped her well-used hand pruners into the large, practical front pocket of her hand-made cotton dress.
Had she called me an abelia a few hours earlier the label would have seemed meaningless, even nonsensical. Nothing my grandmother said to me had ever been meaningless or nonsensical and neither was her labeling me an abelia. In fact, after the conversation we’d just had, it made me feel hopeful.
Nannie had asked me one evening if I could come over the next day to help her trim some bushes that grew along the side of her old farmhouse. I always agreed to help her do anything she asked and not just because she was the perfect grandmother. She was also fun, funny, cheerful, and the most encouraging person I’ve ever known. Being around her was uplifting and helping her do anything meant a good time in the process. We especially enjoyed our times working in the yard together.
We carried on lively conversations as we trimmed the dead wood from a few of her ancient azaleas. I soon mentioned that I had applied for a different job but had recently learned it was given to another candidate. I often felt that whenever I had a chance to get ahead something always knocked me back. It seemed to happen every time. Earlier that summer I had earned an extra hundred dollars one Saturday. On Monday I found out my car needed a small part replaced. The part cost ninety-nine dollars. When I grumbled about my uncanny bad luck, Nannie disagreed.
“To me it seems like He provided for your need.” she said casually as she lopped a dead azalea branch. “Plus, you got an extra dollar.”
I knew the attitude of hers I was up against – an unwaveringly positive one – but I continued complaining about my station in life and how it seemed my setbacks happened far too often. As I tossed some dead azalea branches to the side, Nannie reminded me not to cut off any of the live ones.
“Azaleas bloom on the old wood, so if you cut them too far back it means no blooms next year.” she explained. However, as she spoke she chopped large amounts of live branches from the next shrub she had begun pruning. She noticed my puzzled expression as she hacked the massive bush back another foot or two.
“It’s an abelia and they bloom on the new growth. This won’t hurt next year’s flowers.” she clarified.
I started raking the clippings and branches we’d cut so far. As Nannie kept cutting huge amounts from the shrub in front of her I said, “Well, I must be an azalea!”
“How do you reckon?” she asked, grinning as she fought to remove a tiny twig lodged in her hair net.
“Because I feel like every time I get ready to bloom something comes along and chops me back too far.” I answered. “I keep trying to bloom on my old growth and things keep hacking me back!”
Nannie plucked the little twig from her hair net and looked at me for a minute.
“Look over yonder.” she said, pointing to a little shrub no more than a foot tall but completely covered in tiny blooms and fresh green growth.
“Yeah?” I said. I didn’t get it.
“That’s an abelia, same as this big one I’ve been cutting back.” Nannie explained as we walked over to stare down at the short but bloom covered shrub. “Last year a branch from the tree fell on it and broke most of it back, then I came and cut the rest of it almost to the ground.”
“Yeah?” I repeated. I was going to need a little more to go on here.
She continued. “That abelia tried to bloom and a tree fell on it. It tried to bloom again and I cut it to the ground. When it was finally able, it bloomed better than any of these others that were never cut back.”
All of those setbacks had actually made it bloom more. I finally got what she meant.
“Don’t worry about any old setbacks. Your time will come.” Nannie said.
I understood. Although I felt setbacks were stopping me, they really weren’t. Setbacks can make us tougher, more determined, and better prepared for the time when we really are ready to bloom. I just needed to be patient, work through my setbacks when they came, and my time to bloom would certainly come.
“I’m not an azalea.” I said out loud, almost relieved.
“Not at all.” Nannie said as she smiled and slipped her hand pruners into her pocket. “I believe you’re an abelia.”
Stuart M. Perkins