Narcissus. The Double Daffodil

One happened on a midweek afternoon in school. In my usual place on the back row I was attending to a pleasant mix of inspecting the old scratchings on my desk, assessing the hair and hair ribbon of the girl in front and listening in on what Mary O’Malley was saying to Ida Burns a little further down on the next row, when I heard Miss saying something about some kings and queens. They were written on the blackboard and she said something about us having done some of them last year or last term or last week. I thought, ‘I don’t remember that.’ Then I thought ‘Oh, yes I think I do remember, a bit.’ It was like thinking your way through fog. I think my learning until then had always been like thinking through fog but some little thing clicked that day. The fog lifted and I began to see the links between the things that Miss was always going on about. It was no longer white noise on the edge of my universe and though I never became a genius or any sort of brilliant scholar, from that day on I knew there was something to this school stuff and I did my bit in return for the effort that was being put in for me.

The other thing was that my bulb flowered. It had been a tight bud for ages and ages then one day I went home from school at lunchtime. Mammy was in the kitchen ironing on a table covered with an old blanket. I got bread and jam and milk and she said ‘Look’ and nodded at the window. My flower was open. Clear sunshine yellow in a tangle of petals on a long elegant stem. It was shockingly beautiful, so flawless, so perfect. I’d never seen anything so perfect before. Real life wasn’t perfect, there wasn’t enough money and my Daddy drank too much and the furniture was old and mouldy and you had to watch out for gangs of dogs that would bite you or the bad boys who would hit you. You just had to pretend that things were OK so you could carry on. Everybody pretended the same. But I looked at the flower from my bulb against the crumbly green and black walls opposite and it was effortlessly perfect, even here, even for us. ‘Isn’t that lovely?’ said Mammy.

I went back to school and told Miss. I described the frill of petals and she said that it must be a double daffodil. She seemed pleased enough about it but I was even more amazed. A double daffodil, not even a plain ordinary one, I was blessed indeed.

Now, more than fourty years later, my horticultural snobbery prefers simple single daffs, preferably species varieties, and I consider double daffodils to be gaudy freaks – but that one flower, in the gift of it and in my mammy’s appreciation and in its own detached beauty in those discouraging surroundings, was a revelation.

I wasn’t interested in any further attempts at ‘gardening’. We had no garden, just flags and streets. The park was a place to run around with other kids. I was probably more impressed with the unsolicited bequest of something for nothing. At an early age I had worked out that everything had to be paid for. It was obvious. That you could get something so amazing for nothing has left me with a life-long appreciation of plants and flowers.

Anne Beswick says: ‘The story’s true so that means I’m fifty-odd, gardening mad, now living near Manchester airport, an ex-teacher, and Manchester Irish. This is the first part of a series called Five Easy Species.’

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One Response to “Narcissus. The Double Daffodil”

  1. January 10, 2009 at 5:38 pm, Lynn Breeze said:

    A true story beautifully observed and reported from a distance of time. The flowering of the double daffodil brought me a feeling of great joy and a determination to appreciate those special moments myself when they occur.


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