Thursday, March 14, 2013

How Peony Will Travel

Before I read The Able McLaughlins, I never knew the tremendous efforts of women who pioneered the west to bring with them precious flowering bushes and plants to grow in their new homesteads on the prairie.

I learned about it through a story of one of my favorite characters in The Able McLaughlins, Barbara McNair, the second wife of a homesteading Scot. Mr. McNair had left his first wife and children to return to Scotland to settle a land dispute, but his wife, wrung out with frontier life, died before he could return. Learning of her death, he wedded a woman in Scotland and brought her back to the Iowa prairie with him. She was bitterly disappointed to see her new abode, as it seems Mr. McNair may have been guilty of false advertising. One day, she accompanied her husband to town, and while he was buying supplies, she stalked up and down the streets until she finally found a house with a garden. She asked the owner where she had gotten the flowers, and the owner took her to an older home in town. The lady of this house came out to greet them in her garden and then fetched her spade to give Mrs. McNair a peony plant to grow at the McNair homestead out on the prairie.

Mrs. McNair asked the women where she had gotten the peony, and here is the answer:

"The peony her mother had brought from eastern to western Ohio many years ago, and when she had died, her daughter had chosen the peony for her share of the estate. Her mother had got it from her mother, who came a bride to Ohio from western New York, clasping it against her noisy heart, out of the way of the high waters her husband had led her horse through, across unbridged streams, cherishing it more resolutely than the household stuffs which had to be abandoned in pathless woods. Her great-grandfather had brought it west in New York in his saddle bag, soon after Washington's inauguration as he returned from New York City. She supposed before that the Dutch had maybe brought it from Holland to Long Island. There had been tulips, too, but the pigs had eaten them in Ohio. She had wondered sometimes if it was the fate of the peony to be carried clear to the Pacific by lonely women. At least, if she gave a bit of it to Mrs. McNair, it would be that much farther west on its way to its destination, which she, for one, hoped it might soon reach, so that there would be some rest for women."

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