Stolen Flowers Smell Best

by Dana Miller

Sept. 16, 2015

Mom was always a very honest person. In fact, especially in her later years, she seemed to delight in being shockingly honest. I also don’t remember her ever cheating on taxes, shoplifting, taking advantage of legal loopholes or putting in less than full effort on the job. She did, however, suffer an occasional moral lapse when it came to flowers and peas.

I don’t remember Mom specifically encouraging me to steal flowers from people’s yards. I do, however, remember the twinkle in her eyes when I presented her with a beautiful iris that until recently was growing in Mary Waite’s flowerbed. Holding the flower at arm’s length, turning it slowly as she admired each petal, she’d exclaim: “Oh, this is especially beautiful and I’m sure Mary won’t miss it.”

Iris were always one of Joyce's favorite flowers. If she saw a variety or color of iris in someone's yard that she didn't already have, it became a "must have" item....one way or another.

Iris were always one of Joyce’s favorite flowers. If she saw a variety or color of iris in someone’s yard that she didn’t already have, it became a “must have” item….one way or another.

Her extra admiration for stolen flowers made such an impression on me that I’ve even made an effort to steal flowers to put on her and Dad’s graves on Memorial Day. A few years ago, my wife a two daughters sat horrified in the car as I swiped several irises from the side yard of Dan Nield’s (Grandpa and Grandma Miller’s neighbor) old home. (I tried knocking but no one answered). Even though she cusses me, my wife has been the recipient of more than one daffodil lifted from a neighbor’s yard. I can’t seem to help myself…

Thinking back, I believe Mom’s love for flower gardening lead to her life of horticultural crime. Whenever she saw a plant she didn’t have or hadn’t tried, she insisted on knowing what it was and “getting a start.” If the plant was a perennial, the “start” was a clump of the plant, including enough of the roots to give the plant a chance of surviving being relocated to Joyce’s flowerbeds.

Her first choice was always to catch the property owner outside, working in their flowers, where she’d have the chance to make a new friend, compare gardening notes and learn the name of the plant. These interchanges often lead to a long-term plant trading relationship. Mom wasn’t timid about knocking on the home’s door to start the investigation. If no one was home, well, she also wasn’t timid about wandering around the property to admire the plant(s) up close. More times than not, she returned with a beaming smile to the car with “starts” in hand. We then made a beeline for home so that she could get the “hot” plant settled in its new home.

Marianne remembers what has to be Joyce’s most “gutsy” unauthorized plant acquisition.  David O. McKay was the LDS Church President from 1951 until 1970.  He had a beautiful, white frame home in Hunstville (UT), a bit more than an hour drive from Hyrum.  The home was, of course, beautifully landscaped.  Once when visiting the home and grounds with the children, Joyce helped herself to a plant “start” despite the children’s protests and warnings that “surely a plant stolen from the prophet’s home won’t grow.”  It turned out that the children were right.  No matter what Joyce did to nurture the plant, nothing worked.

Marianne remembers Joyce even "lifting" a flower start from LDS President David O. McKay's home in Hunstville, Utah.

Marianne remembers Joyce even “lifting” a flower start from LDS President David O. McKay’s home in Hunstville, Utah.

I can only imagine what went on inside her head as she stood there in President McKay’s flowerbed, admiring and even coveting that strange new plant. “If he was home and I could visit with him, I’m sure he’d be happy to give me a start.” “If it was mine, I’d want to share it.” “Looky there, that plant needs cut back anyway…taking a nice-sized start will actually make it healthier.”

It probably comes as no surprise to those who knew her well that Joyce’s light-fingered ways also extended to peas. Back in the “olden days” of my youth, peas were a very popular and profitable crop for local farmers. There was a pea vinery (where peas were removed from the vines and pods) in Hyrum and a cannery in Smithfield. I vividly remember riding in the old 1957 Mercury between Hyrum and Wellsville just before dark one evening. About a mile east of Green’s Corner, Mom pulled to the side of the road and sent several of us kids scampering out into the pea field with instructions to return with as many pea vines as we could carry.

Peas were a popular crop for local farmers in the 1950's and 1960's. The Del Monte cannery was located on Main Street in Smithfield, Utah.

Peas were a popular crop for local farmers in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The Del Monte cannery was located on Main Street in Smithfield, Utah.

Scared, but also excited, we tramped over the vines, pulling them up by the roots. Back at the Mercury, waiting with the cavernous trunk open, Mom shouted encouragement: “Hurry up before somebody comes!” Dumping our haul in the trunk, we dove back inside the car as she hit the accelerator, flipping a U-turn on the highway and heading back to Hyrum. All the way home, we’d laugh about how frightened we were and about how many peas we’d gathered. Once home, the vines got hauled in the house where we removed the pods and got down to some serious fresh pea eating.

Occasionally, Mom even got Dad involved. One year, while following me from checkpoint to checkpoint in the Wasatch 100 race, they arrived at the Millcreek Aid Station east of Salt Lake City a half hour before I trudged in. Other runner’s crews were busy taking care of their runners, using the trunks of their cars as mobile aid stations. I understand that Mom treated these open car trunks like a goody supermarket, walking from one to the next, admiring what the crew had to offer. And, yes, she did have Lyle swipe a few of the treats she found irresistible! Can’t you just hear her pestering him into it? “C’mon, Lyle, don’t be a chicken shit!” Oh, Joyce!