The Meaning of a Marigold

When I think of a marigold, I think how it is a simple, modest flower. Unlike orchids or other exotics, the marigold is a low-maintenance, hard-working plant that endures direct sunlight with little watering. My father, who loved marigolds, was much the same way: humble, steady, quiet, and hard-working.

Every spring he grew a vegetable and flower garden from “scratch” using seeds, not ready-grown plants. He would plant orange marigolds around the edges of our back porch every spring. Not only did the flowers look pretty, they were useful in repelling mosquitoes that disliked the marigold’s special scent. He would nurture the marigolds throughout the spring and summer and even into the fall.

My father taught at an inner-city elementary school in Boston. The students were from poor or working class families. Many were from broken homes facing stressful issues overwhelming for a second-grader. As an incentive to improve students’ self-esteem and behaviors in class, at the end of each month he would offer a marigold in a special container to students who behaved well and did their school work.

One month, a girl who normally earned her take-home marigold failed to do so because of “bad” behavior. She pouted and protested, but my father reminded her that marigolds were only for good behavior.

The following Monday, an elderly gentleman appeared at my father’s classroom door. He asked for a moment to speak with him regarding his granddaughter. He shared that his granddaughter, the girl who failed to earn her monthly marigold, had cried about it all weekend. He said she was all torn-up about it and wondered if my dad could make an exception; it meant so much to her. The grandfather said they’d had a difficult month at home with some pressing family issues. Softened by her grandfather’s plea and the girl’s distress, my dad agreed. From that time forward, the girl remained an ideal student and always earned her monthly marigolds.

As years passed, my father retired and my parents moved to South Florida near my husband and me. Soon after their arrival, my dad was diagnosed with a condition that would mean the gradual deterioration of his mental faculties. Aware of how precious his time would be, I started gardening with my dad. I would invite him over for a gardening day and we would re-soil, plant, mulch, and water flowers together. He would give me advice and share his own gardening stories. As something special, we planted a row of marigolds along the back patio like the ones he planted around our family’s porch so many years ago.

After his visits, my mom would call and let me know how much dad had enjoyed his time with me and looked forward to his next gardening day “with Linda”. It was an activity that made him feel useful and connected in ways he gradually felt unable to in other parts of his daily life. Eventually, our gardening days ended as they became too difficult for him.

When my dad finally passed away, I tucked some of our marigolds into his casket as part of my final farewell. His passing broke my heart, and to this day, I still can’t see a marigold without my heart softening and thinking of my dad. I continue to plant marigolds in our back yard as a remembrance and connection to him. Even though I often tear-up when I do so, it comforts me to know that my dad and I were able to have those precious days together. Sometimes, I also think of that little second-grader who so dearly wanted that marigold from my father, and I know, now, how much a simple marigold can mean.


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