04/03/2011 02:37 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Legacy of Blooming Where You're Planted

Daffodils in spring always make me think of my grandmother. Every year, the trumpet-like blossoms grew by the barbed-wire fence that ran along the front of her farmhouse in rural Alabama and curved around to the barn. Because the road turned as it approached her place, the stand of yellow flowers took drivers by surprise. The jonquils, as she called them, heralded the coming of spring.

Meanwhile, my family lived in town -- town after town after town. Because my father was a minister, we moved a lot. My mother, who was born on the farm and had left it only for college, hated moving. She needed roots and wanted her children to have them, while my dad, the son of a railroad man, liked new places, new people.

My parents met while Mother was back on the farm, teaching at the K-8 school down the road, and Daddy was teaching high school biology to supplement his preaching wages. When they married, Mother didn't anticipate a life of five-year stints strung together like beads on a cord.

When it turned out that way, she did her best to adapt. Yet she never got used to saying goodbye to houses she'd made into homes for us or friends she'd grown to love. In one place, she cried over leaving a mockingbird that sang outside her bedroom window.

In time, her enthusiasm for making just the right curtains and digging flowerbeds in hard clay waned. She said to my grandmother, "I'm not going to plant flowers anymore. I just always move off and leave them." My grandmother, who suffered no foolishness, snapped back, "Of course you'll plant flowers. There'll always be someone after you to enjoy them, and someone else after that."

Those words came back to me a couple of years ago when I returned to the farm community for a family funeral. I'd been living in California for 35 years. After the service, I took a drive down the farm road. As I rounded the bend where the barn used to be, I was greeted not by a row of jonquils but by a whole meadow of them. Yellow blossoms covered what had been pasture and chicken yard.

My grandparents had been gone for 45 years, and the farm long since sold to strangers. A more modern house stood there now, surrounded by debris and broken-down cars. But never mind -- the jonquils had kept right on multiplying.

I stopped and picked one, sniffed it and held it between my fingers. I knew I was holding a part of my grandmother and my family heritage. She hadn't left much in money or property; she hadn't written books or composed music. But she had left a piece of her spirit, kindness and generosity on that hillside, and her legacy was growing every year. The investment of her time and work was producing compound return. Thousands of people had enjoyed what she left behind, and more were doing so every spring -- just as she intended.