The Golden Triangle

By Joan Leotta

“The Golden Triangle” I speak of is the mass of golden day lilies that filled the corner of my yard when I was growing up. These visual harbingers of summer’s start were, and are still, a tangible remembrance of my mother. Bright, showy, hardy, lovely beyond expectation in their June prime.

The autumn after I was six she added lilies to a corner patch of our yard – all the same a special yellow variety that cost the horrific sum (in the 1950s) of almost five dollars apiece. I guess the yellow lilies brought the sun into her heart. As she shoved the bulbs into the holes her little device made, she told me, “These will multiply.”

In the dreary gray rains of Pittsburgh’s November, that corner of the yard was off limits, but since it was too damp and chilly to be outside it did not matter so much that the lily garden now blocked my way to my favorite hiding place. Yes, they made a line across a large swath of yard, filled in on two sides, with the deep green of hedge marking the side boundaries and the point marked by a boundary stone and my favorite bush. Snow mounds covered the patch in winter, and when my mother was not home to shoo me away I tramped over this forbidden corner of the yard to reach that corner marker stone. I would climb up on it and dream of pelting the other neighborhood kids with snowballs, though I never did.

Spring brought bright green shoots out in the patch. Their slim, green selves shifted with the cool spring breezes, occasionally revealing the nozzle-like buds that would later turn from green to yellow and burst out into trumpet form in summer.

True to her prediction, the bulbs did multiply. In two years, the triangle was large enough for the lilies to act as an audience for my summer outdoor antics. Like so many trumpet-hatted matrons, the patient lilies attended all of my dramatic performances in the yard, warm breezes inspiring them to nod approval for my songs, poems, stories. Day lilies have none of the heady aroma of floribunda roses but then again, neither do they attract those dreaded Japanese beetles. Only bees, butterflies and birds frequented their innards – and then only for a short visit.

I came to love those flowers.

When I wanted to bring some inside, my mother informed me that their rich golden yellow beauty was not for picking. They remained an outside testament to floral elegance.

After I moved away to find a job, on my various return visits, I never failed to marvel over that triangle of floral finery. After I married, I lived for seven years in a yard-starved townhouse in Washington DC’s Virginia suburbs – no room for much of anything except for a small kiddie pool and a few azaleas. At last, in 1984, we moved to a house with enough room for a swing set – a single-family colonial with a soon-to be fenced yard and play equipment aplenty for our then four and two year olds.

Along our fence line, from the gate to the back, I saw a patch of ground I wanted to use for daylilies – my mother’s day lilies. She and my father were planning to move to an apartment, and I wanted some of those golden lily bulbs for my own yard. I wanted to keep them in the family by putting some of her garden in my yard.

My father acquiesced right away – as fathers do. My mother resisted when I asked for “a few bulbs.”

“No,” she blurted out. “Those bulbs cost five dollars apiece in 1956, and you will kill them.”

I do have a rep for having a black thumb. But I was confident the lilies could survive even me and likely Virginia’s warmer climate and more clay-like soil.

Her last argument was, “the new people will want them, I know.” I won that argument by countering that the new people would never miss a few from the middle part of the swath since the lilies needed to be divided anyway.

By the following spring I was enjoying skim green stems, and my mother and father were safely ensconced in a new apartment. By summer, golden blooms adorned their rectangle of space alongside my fence in spite of me, in spite of the soil, in spite of the sun.

On my first summer visit back to Pittsburgh after the bulb transfer, my mother and I took a drive past the old house so she could enjoy the full expanse of her golden triangle of lilies. When we pulled up to the old house and walked up to the gate to the yard, we looked left and my mother took a step back in shock. “They’re gone,” she exclaimed. The philistines who purchased the house from her had torn out those five dollar bulbs (probably consigning them to the trash) and laid down more green sod. My mother gloried in her wisdom at giving me some bulbs before leaving the old house.

When she died in 1997, I was left alone in my reverence for those lilies. In 2003 we sold our house, our patch of colonial Virginia. However, before the new owners took possession, I divided the lilies, leaving some for them put three bulbs in a pot. Those three traveled to Calabash, North Carolina, with me to a sandy bed by Caw Caw creek.

Happily, they seemed to enjoy the trip. First came the green spears. Then, when June arrived, all of them, even the three from my balcony that had thrown up leaves but no blossoms, rewarded me with blooms as yellow and full as a row of trumpet shaped suns against the white of the pampas grass plumes and the deep blue of the Carolina sky.

Although the geometry of my garden is once again a rectangle—when I look out of my kitchen window those yellow heads nod approvingly at me, and I think of my mother. I think she would enjoy their showy display and is in heaven reveling in her wisdom at spurring me to take some to North Carolina with me.

Over the years the name of this variety is lost to me. However, the true name and cost do not matter. To me the bulbs are “Mom’s,” they evoke her indomitable spirit, and for that and all the memories, they are worth more than gold; their value is priceless.

About this writer

  • Joan LeottaJoan Leotta of Calabash, North Carolina, has been playing with words since childhood. She is a journalist, playwright, short story writer and author of several mysteries and romances as well as a poet. She also performs folklore and one-woman shows on historic figures.

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3 Responses to “The Golden Triangle”

  1. Joan, lilies were my late best friend’s favorite flower, and reading your delightful story made me fell very close to her.

  2. Rose Ann says:

    Your story brought back so many beautiful memories and emotions. My young son dug up and planted a single, orange, tiger lily that, over the years, filled the garden. I meant to bring a few with me when we moved but forgot in all the hustle and bustle. I miss those special flowers. So glad you have yours to enjoy!

  3. Thank you, Rose Ann and Linda!

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