Each winter when the primroses bloom, I think back to when I was a boy and the nuns at All Saints presented each of us with three tiny mustard seeds. I am not certain what the other kids did with their seeds, but I took mine home and showed them to my dad. The Dutch farmer held the minute kernels in his palm and studied them closely. He then smiled, nodded his head, and led me out to the garden where we planted them.

Months later, back out in the garden, pointing to a tremendous mustard plant that was growing out of control, my dad displayed one of the yellow flowers and exclaimed, “There we go! We’re doing okay. Like Jack and the bean stock, eh?” he said as he laughed. And, over time, the mustard plants thrived and multiplied, and raised little families in a little corner of the planet.

* * *

Before Ash Wednesday one year, I won a leafy green plant at school that came without a name or care instructions. My classmates and I had no idea what it was. So I made up a name for it: “a common cucumber” because of the wrinkly leaves that resembled the skin of a cucumber, thinking I was quite the botanist.

When I got home, I took the plant to my dad. Even though I did not see a flower on it, he told me it was a primrose, and that I would see a flower soon. We planted it out in the garden near the daphne bush. By Lent, the primrose bloomed a beautiful red and yellow. Over time, as with the mustard seed, the primroses thrived and multiplied, and raised little families in a little corner of the Earth.

Then the fragrant lilacs blossomed, and we picked the lilacs and placed them in glass vases at the altar where my friends and I played Mass, especially at Easter time.

* * *

One Saturday afternoon, as I was playing on the school playground, I could see Sister Mary Marcelina working in the garden near the convent. She called out to me and motioned for me to come over. When I got there, she carefully removed something from her apron that she gently placed in a brown paper sack with her garden-gloved hands. She softly handed the sack to me. Inside was a small green plant with multiple spear shaped leaves. Sister smiled and told me to take the plant to my dad, as the nuns all knew he was once a farmer back in Holland. But I knew, too, that the sisters were always grateful to him for bringing boxes of apples and oranges to the convent.

My dad planted the small green plant on the other side of the daphne bush, where the daffodils, the Lenten Lilies, were in full bloom.

And, over time, like the primroses, the charming, blue-flowered forget-me-nots thrived and multiplied, and raised little families in a little corner of the world.

* * *

That Sunday afternoon, my dad’s friend Marion brought over a tropical-looking tree of heaven (ailanthus altissima), and he and my dad planted it near the garden. Afterwards, the two fathers unfolded their lawn chairs and sat beneath the new tree where the robins came to perch.

Marion opened a quart of Bohemian Club beer and poured a bit into two avocado green ceramic coffee mugs. The two men gazed at the seven irises that once was one, growing along the white picket fence, and sipping their beer, looked back up at their tree.

“Good to be alive isn’t it, Jack?”

“Yes, it is.”

“You believe in heaven on earth?”

“No, not really. We’re just not heaven material down here.”

“Tree of heaven, though, huh?”

“Yeah, tree of heaven for sure, pal.”

And the two stopped and fell silent as they briefly mused the next life.

And Marion looked back up to heaven and sighed and refilled his coffee mug.

“Jack, you ever known someone who’s been to heaven?”

“Yes, I think I have.”

“Yeah, me too. Nice guys too, huh?”

“Yeah, really nice guys. And well mannered.”

And the two sipped their beers in silence, beneath the new tree, the tree of heaven, where the robins came to perch.

And, over time, the flowers thrived and multiplied, and raised little families in a little corner of the globe.