Confederate rose symbolizes life

Published 2:38am Saturday, November 7, 2009

Of all the floral beauty that blesses us in south Alabama, the Confederate rose is my favorite.

Years ago, when I was a reporter at The Onlooker in Foley, some co-workers and I were in the front office when a man walked in holding several beautiful white blooms with yellow centers. The stems were wrapped in a damp paper towel. He handed them to the receptionist. “Put them in some water and watch them,” he said. She did so and placed the container on the counter.

I was in and out of the office several times that day. Upon my first return several hours later, the blossoms had taken on a pinkish cast around the edges. A short time later, they turned pink all over. One of the advertising reps bounced in and did a double take when she saw them. “Am I crazy or weren’t those white when I saw them this morning?” she asked.

When I returned again much later, the blossoms had a rosy hue. By the time we left work that day, they were drawing inward. Again, they had changed. This time it was to a dark rose color, edged in brown. Through our close observation, we knew it was just about the end of their life span.

I decided it must take about eight to 11 hours in the whole process to pop open, reach their peak, fold up, and die. Later, I realized they could last a little longer, depending on the weather.

I met someone in Baldwin County who had enjoyed a Confederate rose bush in her yard for 15 years. She said she heard that they once grew profusely in the area until frost wiped them out. Some people call them cotton hibiscuses. There’s a verse that comes close to describing them: “One day white, next day pink, next day dead.”

When my mother came to live with us at the Lillian United Methodist Church parsonage, she planted a Confederate rose bush beside our patio.

It grew profusely, almost blocking our way to the door. It towered way above our heads and produced plenty of blooms for me to take to friends and co-workers. I had fun sharing them, especially with people who had never noticed them before. I venture to say that there might still even be a few Confederate rose bushes in Lillian that were rooted from sprigs from the one at the parsonage.

I think there’s a bit of a life lesson in the Confederate rose. What better illustration is there of the brevity of life than that of a Confederate rose? In its infancy, it breaks forth brightly, reaches a peak in young adulthood, gradually moves into maturity in a blast of color, then draws itself inward showing its age. Then it just fades away. Its short but brief lifespan makes my heart leap with delight over its exquisite beauty; yet I grieve a little when the day is done and it folds with age and dies.

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