The heavenly fragrance of moon flower permeates the air in the whole garden.
–The Flower Expert website
In the summer of 1965 I was busy preparing to leave my home, family and friends and go off to college. Actually, only part of what I just said is true. I was going away to college, that’s true. But I was not busy preparing for it. No, I was busy trying to hold on to my old life. Once you go away to college, that’s it. Nothing is ever the same…ever again. I instinctively knew that so I did things to delay my departure…from my home, from Owego and from my youth.
That Spring, I cleared out the debris that had accumulated in a narrow patch of soil between the front porch and a sidewalk that went along the side of the house that faced the RR tracks. That would be the east facing side of 420 Front St. That was the side that gave me a clear look at the home of my childhood friend, Jimmy Merrill.
I broke up the cleared soil and planted a row of seeds. I planted Moonflower seeds from a packet I had bought at J.J.Newberry’s on Lake St. I had never grown a Moonflower before, but the picture on the packet looked beautiful. And who couldn’t fall under the spell of anything called a Moonflower. I carefully read the label and it described how Moonflowers were climbers. So, I attached a dozen lengths of string from the ground up to the board beneath the front porch roof. I watered the seeds and then went out with my girlfriend, Mary, to Shangra-La Speedway to watch the stock car races. Or, we would walk up to the monument of Sa-sa-na-Loft and sit on the bench that overlooked the town. We couldn’t see my house because of the trees, but we could make out the white back wall of her house on E. Temple St. I could see the Court House and the yellow busses near the high school. We watched the trains that passed through town just below where we sat. I watched as the trains rode over the Tunnel of Love, splashed in white paint, at the bend in Paige Street. I’ve written before how important that tunnel was. I stole more than one kiss in that damp passageway. I can’t speak for Mary, but I was proud when PE & MAW appeared one day on the dingy wall. It was accompanied by a heart and an arrow.
I kept an eye on the Moonflowers. They sprouted, just when the packet said they would, and they began to climb the string I had put in place for them.
We went to the Tioga County Fair. I didn’t win a Teddy Bear for her, but we rode the Ferris Wheel and the Merry-go-round.
There was a small swinging seat on the side of our front porch, just beside the railing that was slowly being covered by the leaves of the Moonflower. I remember the two of us sitting on the swing while the sky grew black as ink over Cemetery Hill and a spectacular thunderstorm broke out, complete with hail, lightning and the closest thunder you could imagine. But we were dry and cozy on the swing and the Moonflowers got a healthy drink of water.
We canoed on the Susquehanna, often paddling up to Hiawatha Island, owned at the time by the family of one of my best friends, Pete Gillette. (That was the last summer I ever saw Pete).
As the days drifted into mid-August, I knew my days at home were quickly winding down. Arrangements had been made for me to get a ride to Louisiana (where I was going to attend college) with Cathy Brown and her family. Cathy would later become Mrs. Craig Phelps (another of my closest friends who lived across the street). Even later, Cathy would lose her son and then “Doc” himself. I miss him terribly.
I never knew if Craig could see the Moonflowers from his house. It would have been easy if he knew where to look.
The vines of the flowers continued to climb. My day of departure was coming. It became a race. I packed. The Moonflowers grew. They grew up fast, like I felt my high school years had done. My school days flashed by me in minutes, not years.
The days finally arrived. The Brown’s were going to pick me up in a few hours. I went out onto the front porch. The buds were ready to open any minute, it seemed.
I left Owego never seeing the Moonflowers bloom.
A few months later, my relationship with my girl friend ended. I never got to see the bloom of that flower, either.
The following summer, I found out that all the things I worried about, did indeed come true. Nothing was ever, ever the same again.
I never planted Moonflowers after the summer of 1965.