When my children were little we would take them to a local restaurant for a treat now and then. The treat was always a burger and fries but the best part was the server. If we arrived early, before the main lunch crowd, we could sit in her section.
This server was a middle aged lady and her name was “the thank you lady”. She may have had another name but in our family, going for a burger was known as ‘going to see the thank you lady’.
She was called ‘the thank you lady’ first because I wanted the kids to have good manners. But also because the meal served to our kids had extra fries and their dessert had an extra scoop of ice cream.
In the beginning they did not realize the extras they were getting, but with time they began to revel in this sense of specialness. Forty years later their eyes still light up when they say “Do you remember the thank you lady?”
Some people have a reserved space in your memory for as long as you have a memory. In my own memory it is our neighbour Mr Batty, who occasionally allowed me to pick a few flowers in the greenhouse that was his pride and joy.
Today I don’t remember what variety of flowers they were, I just remember that they were not like plain, ordinary flowers. This was not a daisy or a daffodil or even an iris, which was as special as our own garden got. This was a flower of delight. I would put it in a jar (my mother didn’t trust me with a vase) and set it on my bedroom window sill.
Looking back, I should have shared it, but no. It was like we had an exclusive relationship, the flower and I. I could fall asleep looking at it and next morning it would still be right there on the window sill.
My aunt too has a special place in my memory. I went to stay with her when I was in my teens and found a small vase of sweet peas beside my bed. I felt like visiting royalty. Not only were they in a vase, but no-one had put flowers beside my bed before. To this day, if I have visitors staying overnight I put a vase of flowers beside their bed. I hope it makes them feel just as special as I did then.
Nowadays when I visit a nursery garden that is new to me, I almost always find flowers that wow me. It used to be that I would try to find a way to buy them no matter how unsuitable they were for my own garden. It was that childish ‘I see it, I want it, it must be mine’ reaction. Now I can – usually – resist.
I can admire it, I can say “thank you” for having seen it, but I don’t have to own it. (Well, maybe once in a while, but not often.) It gives me peace to say ‘thank you’ for flowers. My camellias or begonias, what perfection! Thank you.
My neighbour’s rhodos, the silk tree around the corner, the display our parks people arrange in the roundabout. My eyes, my brain absorb the beauty.