Iris in the early-morning sunlight

Iris in the early-morning sunlight

Two years ago I dug up all of our iris tubers, or corms. I separated and replanted as many as I could fit into the original bed and an adjacent bed, and last year they grew, but there were few blooms. This year the stems are full of buds, some of which have started to bloom. Iris blooms are delicate and do not last long, so when the combination of clear skies, fresh blooms, and early-morning sunlight came together, it was clear that this was the opportunity to attempt a photo.

This iris is facing directly toward the rising sun in the east-northeast.

These irises have a history that evokes some memories. The corms that we planted some thirty years ago came, as most of our hand-me-down plants have come, from Aunt Rose (Rosadee). She grew irises in the backyard of the house where I spent my childhood.

The corms that Rosadee first planted many years before were given to her by Hans Engel, our next-door neighbor for much of my childhood. Although I never thought of him this way when I was young, Mr. Engel was in some ways a surrogate grandfather. Both real grandfathers had died many years before I was born.

Mr. Engel had been a chemist but I believe he had retired by the time I got to know him. He grew grapes. He had a compost pile. He had a small collection of beer steins. Once, when I was watching him turn his compost pile, he disturbed a nest of yellow jackets and one of them stung me on the temple. My father chided him for exposing me to that risk but I survived that and many subsequent stings from yellow jackets. Mr. Engel had an enormous pet goldfish and a boxer named Ginger. His wife Viola and he looked out for the four of us, but for some reason I spent more time with him than my brothers did. He drove a large GM sedan, vintage early to mid-1950s, and then he bought a light blue 1964 Chevy II.

One day, when I was about seven or eight, Mr. Engel took me on a road trip to Sussex County. He collected and studied rocks and minerals and so he took me to the Franklin Mine. He also took me to the Gingerbread Castle in Hamburg and bought me lunch. I think we also had other outings but the trip to Franklin and Hamburg is the one that I remember best.

The Engels’s daughter Evelyn was married and had a son, Billy. One of Billy’s favorite activities when he came to visit was to sneak into the corner grocery store, which we knew as Cavvie’s, and see how far we could get by crawling around the store behind the counters and display cases before the proprietor caught us. He would then come after us with the grasping tool that he used to reach the cans and boxes on the high shelves. I don’t recall him ever catching us; I don’t know that he tried very hard and I don’t know what he would have done if he had caught us.

I can’t remember a lot of contact with the Engels during junior high school and high school. Mrs. Engel died at some point during those years but I was oblivious to it. I think it shook Mom up a bit. Mom’s own mother had died in the 1940s and I think she cherished Mrs. Engel as someone whom she could trust and confide in. Some time after Mrs. Engel died Mr. Engle hired a housekeeper, although I remember very little about her. My brothers probably remember more.

One weekday when I was in college I was home in the middle of the day. The housekeeper came and rang our door bell in a rather agitated state. Mr. Engel had fallen and was not responding to her attempts to rouse him. I went to the house to see if I could help and found Mr. Engel lying face down on the living room floor. I could find no pulse, however. The police and EMS were called and they confirmed what we suspected. An autopsy determined that he had had a stroke; he was probably already dead when he hit the floor.

I’d like to think that I learned some things from Mr. Engel. He was a good neighbor and friend to my parents and to me and I’m glad that I have these irises to remind me of his generosity.

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