Title: The Color of Roses
This story is part of the Glimpses of Ben Series.
The age of nine is an odd age for more than the obvious reason. At nine you can remember being rather silly as a younger child and yet have no really clear vision of how you will be when you are older. Nine allows you to sit and listen and swing your legs back and forth under the table because your feet don't quite touch the floor. The sublime age of nine is when your mind starts wondering just why certain things happen and you are still at the wondering stage of believing that anything can happen. At nine, when you sit in church you try to fold your hands and behave with proper decorum just as your elders think you should. However, at nine, you easily fall into childish fits of inattentiveness and become unaware of adult displeasure until you feel a steely grip upon your arm. All things are possible at the age of nine. But nine is also the age where suddenly things happen to shake your world; nine is the age you realize that just maybe other people see things a little differently than you do.
And so it was for little Benton Fraser, son of Robert Fraser and grandchild of Martha and George Fraser. The winter weather had long since begun to give in to spring's mildness of temperament and the dog sled was no longer needed for regular Sunday excursions to church services. Church services were currently held a little closer to home than usual as they were living in a more populated area than was their usual wont. In deed, going to church had become an enjoyable time for Benton as they could actually walk the village path through the green growth of spring in to the village and attend church in an actual church building rather than in a school house or in someone's barn.
One particular Sunday the year Benton was nine, he wandered the path to Sunday school and church alone. Normally, he would be dressed in his best clothing and walk along the path between the two tall shadows of his grandparents. But on this day, one of his grandfather's sled dogs was having a rather bad time whelping a new litter of pups and his grandparents had suggested that he move along and go to church by himself, he was after all nine years old and capable of doing such a task.
So Benton trotted into the cabin like the normally obedient child he was and dressed for church. He pulled on his best dress slacks and shirt then slid his feet into warm socks and debated wearing his hiking boots or his dress shoes. The better part of valor won out and he encased his feet in the hiking boots. He reasoned that there was too much spring oozing into the path and he didn't want to risk being taken to task for ruing his good Sunday-Go-To-Meeting shoes. He completed his ensemble with a light sweater and jacket. He thrust some of his more precious nine-year-old things into his pockets and ran out of the cabin. He walked quietly up to the barn door and leaned in being sure to keep his feet well hidden from view of the interior.
"I'm going now Grandma." The curly hair on his head threatened to escape the neat brushing he had given it so Ben stilled the movement of his head.
George Fraser grinned at his wife and continued to soothe the female husky laying at his feet. Martha Fraser turned to the barn door just long enough to admonish Benton to get a move on and be home without stopping along the way to investigate any oddities that might be laying open to view along the path home.
Nine–year-old Benton grinned and answered in a husky whisper; "I'll be home quickly as I can Grandma." He turned and made off quickly down the path to the village.
He arrived in time to join some of his best friends before services were scheduled to start and then made his way to the choir box where he sat in his usual seat in-between the empty seats his grandparents would normally occupy. He settled in and tried to behave with absolute adult stillness.
The service was a long one and Benton tried his best, but even though he looked like he was paying attention he soon was the captive of a wandering nine-year-old mind. And, so it was that at the end of the service he really had no idea what had been the topic of the day. He was startled into the revelation of this fact when he found himself in the long line of people leaving the church building and knew he had no clear idea of what to tell his grandparents about the service. And so it was that he was not really paying attention at all to the words of the official 'greeters' as he neared them and had a white rose put in his small hands. One of its sharp thorns cut his flesh and he glanced quickly up in confusion at the lady who had put it into his hand. Her eyes looked so sad and for a moment she looked like she might cry. She leaned over and kissed the hair on his head and bid him a good day.
Benton followed some of his friends out the door and stood looking down at the rose in his hand. He didn't remember ever being given a rose in church before. He was thoroughly puzzled. He looked around and noticed all the other children that had attended services standing around with their families, each child with a rose in their hand. Benton looked from child to child and then down to the rose in his hand. He squinted his eyes at it and looked at its lovely white petals. Then he turned his head and looked again at the roses in the other children's hands. Red, every other rose was red. Benton suddenly felt left out and different. The feeling gnawed at his chest and made him feel his lungs pulling tightly at him. His eyes suddenly felt gritty and wet and he hid his face from his friends. Several of his best friends yelled to him but he turned quietly and walked away from the church and back to the path that would lead him home.
Green budding things and sunshine and young spring bugs tried to gain the attention of young Benton on his way home. Even the gushy, oozing mud tugged at his hiking boots and seemed to be an animate thing as it gripped and pulled at the soles of his boots. The white rose stayed gripped tightly in his fingers as he walked. No childish bouncing from near puddle to puddle broke his walk.
Not once did he lift his eyes to the sun and grin like a young growing thing. The white rose's petals were tight and unfurled and untainted by the first blush of brownish edges. It was freshly cut and beautiful in his hands.
Martha Fraser was just finishing clearing off the kitchen counter and beginning to prepare Sunday dinner when she heard the first heavy step of Benton's hiking boots on the wooden stoop outside the kitchen door. She grabbed a towel and wiped off her hands with a grin. She stood waiting for Benton to come in the door. His shadow preceded him and she waited patiently for his little head to lean in first and check out the room. She always found it amusing that Benton seemed to want to know what he was walking into before he entered a room.
He stepped inside and stood quietly by the door, the white rose clutched fiercely in his hands. Her heart sank nearly to her feet as she realized just what marked this date on the calendar. She rushed forward and put her arms around the small boy.
The boy looked up at her with bright wetness in his eyes. "Everyone else got a red rose, Grandma. Why did I get a white one?"
Martha put her arms around the boy in a soft hug and walked with him over to the kitchen table where she had him sit down and took the white rose from his hand.
"Better put that in a vase child. Shame to waste such a beautiful thing." She turned quickly away and went to the cupboard where she pulled out a large, glass vase and then filled it with water. She kept her back to the boy for a few seconds and then walked back to the table and gently took the rose and placed it reverently into the vase. Then she sat carefully down at the table and looked directly into her grandson's eyes. "Some say the red rose is a sign of everlasting love and that white roses are a sign of a love even stronger than death. They handed out roses today for Mother's Day. It's an old tradition. Didn't the minister talk about it during service?" She watched the eyes she loved change color and become dark pools of pain. She paused and ran the fingers of her right hand through the boy's hair. "I should have gone to church with you today, Benton." She leaned over and pulled him into a tight hug. "I'm so sorry little one."
At first Benton hugged her back but after a few seconds he pulled back, patted her hand and got up from the table. He looked down at the rose and turned away towards his bedroom. He undressed and put his Sunday things away. He pulled on clean jeans and a heavy sweater and grabbed his backpack. He walked back out to the kitchen and put his pack by the door. Without one look at the white rose he helped his grandmother set the table and prepare Sunday dinner.
When his grandfather came in he watched the boy with interest and gave his wife a questioning look. She merely nodded at the white rose and put the meal on the table. They exchanged sad looks and George went to clean up. When he returned they sat at the table where George said their prayer of grace and the family ate silently.
When the nearly silently eaten meal was almost over, George eyed Benton with a grin in his eye. "Ready to meet the new pups?"
Benton smiled enthusiastically and grinned back then he sobered up a bit. "How's Sadie Granpa?"
"She's just fine. Seven pups and they nearly all look like her." George nodded at the door. "I think Grandma will forgive you this once if you want to run out and see them without helping to clean up."
The boy looked quickly to his grandmother and took off quickly when he saw her approving smile.
"I forgot and I feel so guilty." Martha said as tears threatened to run down her cheeks. "We both forgot. But I think it'll be OK. We just have to be here for him."
Martha pushed her chair back and stepped over to the cabin door. George rose and followed her. Together they walked quietly to their barn and stood silently watching at the barn door. George's hand slid over Martha's protectively as they heard the small boy inside telling the newborn pups not to worry, their mother was all right.