Cook column: After 68 years, he still brings her flowers
Floyd Patterson likes to surround his wife, Hettie, with flowers. Not the store-bought kind, generally ó though she did wear an orchid corsage on their wedding day 68 years ago.
Instead, he drives around searching the ditches and fields of his friends’ property for wildflowers. When he spots a promising patch, Floyd gets out of his pickup and sets to work, cane in hand.
“I’m picking flowers for my sweetheart,” he tells anyone who asks what he’s doing.
He doesn’t settle for a bouquet. Instead, he and Hettie collect wildflowers by the buckets ó big stalks of flowers, some more than 8 feet tall. They display the results on the porch of their Old Beatty Ford Road home, right in front of the chairs where they sit and listen to the cars go by.
From their porch and out the kitchen window, they view the world through wildflowers.
“I just love them,” she says.
“The way she loves them makes me love them more,” he says.
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Wildflowers are easier to grow and easier to gather than other flowers, Hettie says.
But she’s fond of the others, too. She has grown clumps of pink-and-white stargazer lilies, mounds of purple petunias, rows of scarlet sage and sunny marigolds.
Wildflowers grew all over the farm where Hettie grew up in Mecklenburg County. Her mother liked flowers, too, and grew sage in an old, black wash pot. But she was never able to grow flowers like this.
Floyd grew up in Kannapolis ó his father built the first house in Blackwelder Park ó and they met through friends.
They married in 1941, and Hettie had their first child, Doris, three weeks after Floyd went into the Army. He went off to war with the 34th Infantry Red Bull Division and spent five months on the beachhead at Anzio.
He knew Hettie was home waiting for him, and he saw how it was for men who didn’t have that comfort. His best Army buddy got a Dear John letter from his wife and accepted an assignment he didn’t have to take, Floyd says. He never came back.
But Floyd did come back, wearing rows of medals and battle stars he now stores with care, along with the Army jacket he can still get into as long as he doesn’t have to button it.
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They moved around with his work, first in insurance, then as a mine inspector, then with Vulcan Materials. They lived in Washington, D.C., and San Antonio, Texas. But North Carolina was always home, and they’ve been back longer than they can remember.
Hettie worked, too, sewing at Robert Allen for a while. And she raised the children ó four in all, one boy and three girls ó while he traveled for his job. There wasn’t much time for flowers.
That, like many other things, has changed.
“We’ve got too much time,” Floyd says.
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He tends to rise first in the morning.
“She’ll get up and she’ll look out the window and say, ‘That new pot sure looks beautiful,’ ” he says. “It makes me want to go again.”
He’ll ask what kind of flowers she wants this time and then head out after the morning dew has worn off.
“It’s good therapy for me,” he says. The rougher the place, the bigger the flowers.
He beats down the stems with his big walking stick to bring the flowers within reach.
“I talk to the Lord, too,” he says. ” ‘Oh, Lord, I didn’t mean to fall that time.’ ”
Not that he’s fallen much, he says. He’s 86 and uses a walker, but he feels safe gathering flowers with his cane and his truck to lean on. Sometimes Hettie goes, too.
The wildflowers will dwindle as winter approaches. The Pattersons will stay in for a few months.
Then, one spring morning, she might look out the kitchen window and mention a wildflower she saw on the roadside. And Floyd will climb into his truck, going to gather flowers for Hettie as long as he can.
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Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.