rainbow unicornSeveral years ago, a young woman asked me the secret to a long marriage.

As if I were a Wise Woman with a stone tablet.

As if I were a Unicorn surrounded by a Truth and Beauty Rainbow.

As if there is a secret.

But now after 41 years of marriage, I can offer this.

20200827_191122I planted several flats of petunias, Cliff’s favorite flower, in our front garden. I laid out concentric circles around the dogwood tree. It took a while, and he was astonished by my devotion because petunias aren’t on my wish list. At all. Each morning when he gets up, he stands at our bedroom window, gazing at them below. They flutter like joyful butterflies, flapping and calling: “Hello, Cliff! We see you! The day is good!”

All my life I’ve wanted a window box. Some houses lend themselves to this accessory; some don’t. Here, I saw a possibility on this brick house’s addition–once it was painted the right color (instead of toothpaste white), once we located vintage shutters, once Cliff painted them green. I found the perfect hay basket design with brackets enclosed. Cliff screwed it into place.

It tipped forward so precariously that soil and plants would surely be dumped out.

I was devastated.

Cliff consulted one hardware store after another, bringing home attachments that failed. He presented the problem to our neighbor Rob, who is a master of metal intricacies, after working in automotive design for a lifetime.

They measured.

They contemplated angles.

They discussed nails and screws.

Rob returned within days with custom-built brackets that could straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa, let alone a window box.


If you know O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of The Magi,” you understand the point. His tale recounts the plight of a couple with limited means who intend to present each other with perfect gifts. Each must sacrifice something. While their story is more dramatic, ours is no less endearing. To us, at least.

A marriage is not an argument you must win or a recipe safely guarded. It only succeeds if, at various points, both are willing to put the other first.

You have to devote thought.

You have to donate time.

You have to seek help.

It’s never one precise puzzle piece, let alone one secret.

In our town, a peacock arrived one day. There are theories about his appearance, but no one truly knows the answer. We just accept the mystery and majesty of him. At summer’s end when he molts, people look for his elegant long feathers.

Treasures, to be sure.

But when I walk, I pick up the small ones, the unlikely ones. I had no idea that a peacock’s beauty involved downy white feathers, striped feathers, copper feathers, twirly wire feathers. Even the dark ones, if held to the light, hold fringed rainbows of his gorgeous colors.

All of them, like unrealized secrets, are equally required.

A peacock is more than one prize-worthy feather.

All lasting things are.



13 thoughts on “Plants, Peacocks, and Other Pieces

  1. Oh, this is lovely, Karen! I miss my husband so much. It was like that with us. Both gave to the other, whatever small gesture.. Since he was an electrical engineer, he would be the one to design those brackets, only it would take a week or so, because engineers are like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’ve been fortunate, haven’t we, Lois? Of course, I’m sorry you lost him at such a young age, but your brief happiness together amounts to so very much. I appreciate knowing you found something of your own story in this one.


  2. Metaphor upon metaphor. I love this essay, and the mention of my daily joy…the beautiful petunias. Oh how I dred their demise come frost. All good things must pass, another circle of life experience going along with my just shy of 70 falls. Then there’s Percival and his countless antics. It’s fun to think how many more decades he could keep it up. This is just wonderful!


  3. Marriage is a tricky business for certain. It’s the daily kindnesses and considerations. I have learned lots of new lessons concerning marriage being a caretaker for my wife for the last two months. Taking care of her needs in spite of mine has been an occasion for great revelation. Thanks for this post. BTW – I suck as a writer. It’s a pleasure reading good stuff such as your posts.


    1. Several points here. My best to your exquisite wife as she recovers. Good for you for stepping up. While I appreciate the compliment, I think you are too hard on your own writing. We simply have different literary approaches. (By the way, I’ve already begun revising this post. In fact, sometimes I return to posts from several years ago and do some healthy tweaking. Writing is never ending. The more I write, the more I learn. )


    1. I am deeply touched to have you as a reader because, in large part, I remember you so clearly from our school days. Cliff is already worried about losing these petunias to the inevitable cold. He loves to sit in the shade, watching them dip and wave as if he were at the beach.


  4. What a beautiful post, Karen. And that is it. The secret of a happy marriage is doing for the other something we know will please them (I’m with you, petunias are not my fave. At all.)
    Like Lois, I miss my husband terribly. He was the fixer of all things, the creator of so many more and the one who kept this family together. (Not to mention many of his friends who lament that they never go out because Mick is the one who organised them all.)


    1. A writer is nothing without readers, so I’m pleased that you took the time for my post. I understand the emptiness that remains forever when you lose someone so significant. It leaves a bruise on the heart forever. My father died at 46, and he was a “fixer of all things.” So many people in our community turned to my dad for advice and laughter. While it is a blessing to know such golden people, I know nothing is ever quite the same without them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is true. And definitely was worth my time. 🙂
        Yes, it does. My father was the same sort, too, and he died the year before Mick.
        It is a blessing and I consider myself very lucky to have two such men in my life.

        Liked by 1 person

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