Have you ever been hugged by sunflowers? I have, and I’ll tell you my special story.
July 9, 2011, was one of the hottest Saturdays Starkville had experienced all summer. I knew exactly where there was a secret field of over one thousand sunflowers blooming at the peak of their heavenly yellow beauty just down South Montgomery Street at Davis and Peggy Hartness’ place. I dialed their number, and Peggy answered. I said, “Hello, Peggy, how are y’all doing this hot July day?” She said, “Just hot, and how are you, Carole?” I replied, “I agree. It’s hot. Peggy, may I come out to paint your sunflowers today?” She said, “Sure. Let me find Davis and see if they are at their peak yet. We will let you know and call you right back.” The Hartness family and their three daughters are such gracious people. I know and love one of the twin girls, Glenda Hartness Tranum, a physical therapist. I had just seen her in in a store downtown recently, and she said, “Hey, want to come out to our sunflower field in a few weeks when they reach their peak?” I said, “Oh, Glenda, I would love to do that.” It was only minutes later when my cell phone rang and Davis’ voice with his southern hospitality said, “My sunflowers are at their peak today. Come on out. Be looking down the road for you.”
All of my supplies that I would need for the day were packed, and they began rattling around in my car as I backed out of our driveway. When I got to their place, I turned right off the pavement, and I headed towards a pasture of a dirt/grass road bumping along and past a fish pond. I honked and waved to Davis as I spotted him working in his little shop and began to get closer to a field of the most beautiful sunflowers. The sky looked like a deep cobalt blue color above me without a cloud in sight. My temperature gauge read 100 degrees outside, and this was a typically hot summer July day down here in Mississippi. I thought to myself, “Wonder if I’ll even survive the heat being outside today?” I had my cold water bottles in a iced cooler along with a snack or two.
Use your artistic imagination, and pretend with me that each sunflower is a unique individual. Come on, you can do this. Close your eyes, open them, and see all the sunflowers are living breathing people. A sunflower follows the sun all day long. She moves her head and faces the hot sun rays. Her face turns towards the east in the early morning sunrise, and then her face turns towards the west in the late afternoon sunset. She is so beautiful, and has her own special personality. They come in all sizes — tall, medium, short, and petite. When a slight breeze blows across the rows of flowers, you will suddenly see over one thousand flowers dancing a jig. I can almost hear music in this field. Can you hear it, too?
Wow. Instead of thousands of yellow people, it was more like millions. I heard them all shouting, “Hi there, come on into our world of pure yellow happiness.” They seemed most delightful. Each one was enjoying the moment. As an artist I was here to capture this special moment forever on my 100 percent cotton canvas. A musician plays on a piano, a dancer dances on a hardwood floor, and a writer writes on paper or a computer. All of us are searching and hoping to experience and save the moment of what we see, feel, touch, and love forever to share as our priceless gift. I call what I do creation, and doing my thing is what I do best — sketching and painting to my heart’s content.
Suddenly, I thought of the gift of life that my mother gave to me on March 4, 1942. Mama was Elizabeth Jeanette Lewis McReynolds, and she would have been 100 years old this very day. During the rest of this day, my thoughts would drift back and forth to Mama, and my remembrance, thinking of her with great affection and deep love. I would be “giving life” to a sunflower painting today, too. This painting would be the sharing of my artistic talent to others of what I saw and experienced today. I had a long, hot day ahead.
I had everything at my fingers - my red portable pop-up easel, palette of many colors, huge blue, red, and black brushes along with other brushes. My red smock was completely covered with huge yellow sunflowers, and my big round straw hat was my only shade for the day with one big sunflower pinned on the top of the brim to look quite fashionable. I had to look stylish for the day of painting. I was among a thousand new yellow friends, so I had to be dressed to the nines. I was standing in the middle of dirt rows in a pasture field, and underneath my tennis shoes the dirt looked more like blond sand instead of dark brown dirt. I was their guest, and the sunflowers were the hostesses. They towered high over my head and I felt very small at 5 feet and 4 inches tall. They smiled, winked, and blinked down at me.
I chose to paint only one huge sunflower. Look now and find the cobalt blue sky on my almost invisible lost canvas. See it now. You will find the painting inside, beside, and near all my new sunflower friends. The tall stems are their bodies. The leaning yellow flower petals to the left of my canvas outline the face, which gives life and personality to the face itself of the sunflower. The dark brown mixed with maroon and navy blue becomes her face. In the middle and center of the flower is a touch of lime green, which could be the mouth or the nose of her facial features. Her face is made up of the oily seeds. She is so pretty dressed in all yellow. She is one flamboyant girl. Did you find my red easel, palette, brushes, canvas, and me hidden among the sunflowers? Do you like my painting? I hope so.
Mama was a tiny newborn baby 100 years ago. I am remembering and celebrating her 100th birthday today in this happy yellow field filled with gorgeous sunflowers. Suddenly I see and hear a crow as he flies over my head into the distant sky. I wish Mama were living to see this painting. Maybe she did as she flew over me. Who knows?
This Sunflower field was a gift to me. Each one of you has a gift to give every day that you live. It could be a simple smile, a “Hello,” “How is your day going?,” “May I help you?,” “You look so pretty today,” “Don’t give up now,” or a “Just keep on keeping on.” It could be a song you sing or a tune you whistle, a little dance you dance, a letter mailed at the local post office to a friend or relative, or an email or Facebook message pecked out on a computer. We all have extra special gifts and talents to give away and share with each other every day that we are given life. The most important thing of all is living, breathing, sharing our days on earth with others every second, minute, and hour. Life is priceless.
I was completely exhausted, sweaty, and hot. The sun was turning in for the night. It was time for me to pack up all my art supplies and head back down the country road heading back to my ancestral home, on Louisville Street, the home and birthplace of Mama. Happy 100th Birthday today, Mama. I love you, and I miss you so much. I had so much fun today, and I am growing older too, but I shall see you next year.
Just before I turned to head back to hit the pavement again and join reality, I looked through the window at the absolutely breathtaking field of sunflowers. I had seen the rainbow, followed it to the end, and found my pot of golden yellow sunflowers.
My greatest most precious gift this day was feeling loved indeed. I was hugged by sunflowers.
The submitted photography of this artist’s painting was photographed on July 9, 2011 by Mr. Alfredo Llecha from Spain, a visiting scholar at Mississippi State University who attended my husband, Dr. Frank Marvin Davis, Sr’s 13th International Insect Rearing Workshop in Autumn 2010. Alfredo returned to America to spend time doing insect research in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology, and Plant Pathology at MSU. He is an accomplished photographer, and I am most grateful for his using his own fine talent of photography as his gift to me that day.
Carole McReynolds Davis is a local artist and Starkville native. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .