A Growing Tribute

I’ve always loved sunflowers since I was a youngster. The towering yellow flowers make me smile. Dad wouldn’t plant them in the front yard like I requested back then. However, in later years, he always planted a row of sunflowers at the edge of his vegetable garden right up until his last summer.

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This year, Mom and I noticed a row of sunflowers coming up at the garden’s edge once more. Mom hadn’t asked any of us to plant them. She wanted to keep it simple, being almost 91. Just tomatoes, cukes and zucchini. Another sister snuck in some squash or gourds—I’m not sure which—but the vine is humongous!

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It ends up my brother was responsible for planting the sunflowers. To keep the tradition going or growing, you could say! In memory of Dad. Dad’s sunflowers always were bigger than mine and this year “his” sunflowers bloomed earlier and are still larger!

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I’ve heard there’s a field of sunflowers out near Port Lambton grown in memory of a man’s wife. The widower lets the sunflowers remain standing for the birds to feed on. How sweet is that?

Across the street from a homeless shelter where I volunteer, I’ve always enjoyed seeing a wall of sunflowers against a building each summer. This photo from 2016 shows the striking contrast to the drab store-fronts and hum-drum sidewalks of the city.

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The man who plants the sunflowers is the owner of the apartment building on the street’s corner. This year he was found lying on the pavement in front of his own building. Dead. I came to learn this as the owner of the shelter was asked for video footage from her security cameras to rule out foul play.

What the owner and the police saw was heartbreaking. Footage showed bystanders walking by after slowing to gawk at the man. They did not stop. Cars were witnessed slowing down to take a look. Yet, no car stopped. No one lent a hand. No one whipped out a cellphone to call 911.

A patron of the homeless shelter thought the man was asleep. He drew closer to check on him. Like an unspoken homeless creed to look out for others on the street. Too late… the old man’s eyes were fixed open. He was unresponsive. Police were alerted. This happened four hours after the man collapsed on the street.

Police thought people assumed the man was a drunk or one of the homeless passed out on the street. It broke my heart to hear of this apathy. That the gentleman wasn’t helped at all.

This week, I smiled again on leaving the shelter. I usually enter from a side door and leave from the front of the building. Glancing across the street, I noticed sunflowers blooming once more along the wall of the building.

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Apparently, the store owner’s children planted them as a loving tribute to him. To keep his sunflower tradition alive. Just as my own brother planted a row of sunflowers for Dad. For Mom and all of us children and grand-children who visit her to enjoy in his memory.

I won’t focus on the end of this man’s life. No, I’ll remember him for his sunflowers. I’ll remember how I’d often drive by that neck of the woods and keep an eye on the height of his plants. I’d watch the seedlings grow and see them tied higher each week. Until they bloomed in the heart of the city.

I’ll remember how he made the city—his corner of the world—a more beautiful place, one sunflower at a time.

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