Leaving Montana…and Mary

We buried Mary Lorraine Cahoon Revell at the base of a big tree, in a grave with Leo’s ashes and three tiny babies that died when they were still brand new. Tall trees shade most, if not all, of Ronan Cemetery. The ponderosa pines cover the hill along with bare lodgepoles and furry Rocky Mountain junipers. Quaking aspens shimmer in the breeze. Through the trees the Mission Mountains form a deep teal silhouette. Could anyone find a more peaceful place?

Sandee, Dave and Vicki’s younger sister, made almost all of the arrangements for Mary’s services. Mary lived the final six or seven years just a mile or two from Sandee in West Seattle. When Mary had a stroke in March, Vicki and Dave flew to Seattle to be with her in her final days, and when she passed away, the three children and two sons-in-law were at her bedside. After the cremation, Sandee brought her mother’s ashes to her home to await the ceremony to be held in July.

Dave told everyone, “Sandee needs to document all her preparations for Mom’s memorial and send a file to the Vatican.” He says he’s sure that no more preparation goes into a funeral for the Pope than went into Mary’s services.

On Tuesday before the Thursday mass and burial, I accompanied Sandee to the florist’s shop as she finalized the order for the table bearing the urn and photographs. She also asked for a basket arrangement to grace the front of the altar. The large photographs of Mary cradling the urn were to be decorated with trailing roses of every shade available. The arrangement for the front of the church would be filled with calla lilies, Stargazers, and red roses, backed with a fan of curly willow. When the florist brought out long-stemmed samples of the different colors of roses in her cooler, she asked me if I would like to take them home.  For the five days we stayed in our little cottage on the Swan River, I cared for them in a plastic water bottle vase. I probably love roses as much as Mary did.

Sandee and I also met that day with the Parish Administrator to finalize plans and review the bulletin and music. Mary had songs she asked me to sing. One of them was “In the Garden”.

Sacred Heart, like many of the very small town parishes in Montana, shares a priest with two other towns, but Sister Barbara is a full-time servant of the Church. Sandee and I had both talked with Sister by phone; we all agreed it was good to put faces with names and voices. Tigger Ann, Sister Barbara’s yellow tabby, also joined our meeting. She perched on the table—only for a minute or two—before walking across our papers and notebooks, knocking over a potted plant, and biting my hand twice when I tried to scratch her head. I thought it was a loving gesture on my part; she thought it was an invitation to inflict pain. She didn’t break the skin, but the second time was the last time I tried to pet her.

“Let’s go make sure of where we want to arrange your table and flowers,” Sister Barbara said. The table would bear the photographs of Mary, some of her personal items, and the urn of ashes. Sister Barbara called them “cremains”. Sandee referred to them as “Mother” and told a funny story about how her husband Bob wanted to put Mother in the trunk for the ride from Seattle to Ronan. Sandee told him she didn’t put Mother in the trunk when she was alive and she wasn’t going to put her in the trunk now. So Mother rode between Sandee’s feet all the way to the final resting place. Sister Barbara and I both laughed at Sandee’s story.

When we eased into the sanctuary to choose places for the table and flowers, Tigger Ann followed. Tigger Ann was obviously accustomed to being in the church. She strolled down the aisles, rubbed her back on the undersides of the pews, and posed in front of the altar for Bob to take pictures. We titled her “The Church Cat”.

Yes, the five foot table could be placed in front of the piano and the basket arrangement would be fine in front of the altar. Tigger Ann would not be present on Thursday. Sister Barbara told us she knows Tigger Ann is a bad kitty but she loves her anyway. We got that.

It was warm the day of Mary’s memorial service at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. Sandee and I arrived early, Sandy to set up a photo display in the fellowship hall and to arrange the tabletop items. I was the helper but I don’t remember what I did to help.

The florist came with the flowers an hour before the Mass. The two floral displays for the two photographs of Mary would not both fit on the table, and the basket was pretty but looked a bit puny in front of the altar. Okay, we agreed, let’s put the basket in front of the lectern. Perfect.

“Maybe we could put the larger photograph in front of the altar,” Sandee said.

I said I thought that would look lovely. Then I happened to think about it the second time, you know, from a “church” perspective.

“We better ask Sister about that. I’m not sure they want us to do that,” I said.

“They” didn’t.

“Is this what you thought these flowers would look like?” Sandee asked.

I said no but I thought yes.

“It’s nothing like I imagined. Far different from my plan for a vase of multi-colored roses on the table with the urn and pictures,” Sandee said.

“But they’re beautiful—and we can find a place for them,” I said.

The photograph of Mary in red, caressed by a frame of two dozen roses in red, pink, lavender, yellow, white, and darker pink, smiled from the tea-stained lace-draped table. To its side, Mary’s light blue sweater, the one with the pearl buttons, dressed up the urn and made a soft nest for her candy dish of chocolates, pocket mints, and glasses. A Murano green glass rosary, a gift from both daughters purchased on a trip to Italy, twinkled against the blue sweater.

The smaller of the two pictures went to the reception table.

The new priest, Father Miroslav Szynal, halted a few times to settle on an English word as he recalled the same piece of the Mass in Polish, or perhaps, French, since he arrived only a few days earlier from Canada. His English definitely rang with a French accent. The one word I can recall that gave him pause was “bury”.

At the end of the service when he invited all to the cemetery and the luncheon following in the parish hall, Father Szynal said, “Mary is now Heaven’s beautiful rose.” He must have taken seriously the information about Mary’s life that Dave’s sister Sandee furnished him. I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, but with that statement he endeared himself to all the more sentimental members of the family.

Mary and Leo were rose growers and judges. They traveled around the Northwest showing and critiquing. The first time they visited our home after Dave and I married, they brought along a catalogue from Heirloom Roses in Oregon.

“Pick one out,” Mary said. “We’re going to give you a rose—and the catalogue.”

I picked Glamis Castle. It was not too large and its soft white petals cupped around a pale, pale pink center. The description said it was good for cut flowers and that it made a great hedge. To me that meant I might not kill it.

“That’s a David Austin rose,” Mary said.

When she noticed the silence and the blank look, she added, “He’s an Englishman who did a whole line of roses and branded them. We love David Austen roses.”

“I’ve never kept a rose alive,” I said.

“Oh, just learn everything you can about them. Read your catalogue there. It tells a lot.”

Leo told me the main thing in growing roses is to dig a big hole, a really big hole. “And put some manure in the bottom of the hole—don’t mix it in—and feed your roses compost tea.” Later he told me how to make manure tea, what he really meant by “compost tea”.

“At least you won’t have to fight the deer,” Mary said. Leo had erected 8 ft. chain link fences around their 200+ roses on their creekside property in Victor, Montana.

I studied that Heirloom Roses catalogue, started growing roses, and Mary and Leo and I always had something to talk about. Nearly all of my roses are own-root roses from that same company I started with. Some of my most successful roses are the climbers, which Mary told me they could never “do much with”.

“You ought to think about joining the Rose Society,” Leo said one time. “You really learn a lot.”

“And there’s a man in the Nashville Rose Society that was a good friend of ours,” Mary said. “He’s a rosarian. Be sure to call him up if you have a problem and he might come over and look at your roses for you.”

The Missoula Rose Society sent roses to Mary’s memorial, all grown by these fellow Rose Society members. There were six large vases of more varieties than a person could ever order from a florist. We sat them all over the church, one on “Mary’s table”. Then we moved them to the tables in the fellowship hall for the luncheon gathering. Those were the roses I kept wanting to photograph.

Glamis Castle almost died a few years ago. I learned that a lot of learned growers considered it a “dog” of the David Austins. “Too spindly,” they said. “Too delicate. Too mildew-y. Strange fragrance.” I thought I might replace Glamis Castle—with another Glamis Castle. Leo was gone; it was one of the ways I remembered him, this little scrubby rose. Then I saw a little life and vowed to save it. By the time we moved in late 2009, I had nursed it back to some health; it was three canes, just about a foot tall.

“I’m going to take it with me,” I said. “If it dies, it dies.”

The transplanted Glamis Castle was the first rose I planted in the new rose garden at our new home. I chose the spot most visible from my window by my desk. In no time at all, she was three feet tall and blooming her heart out. I could smell the exotic myrrh scent that makes some people wince. I like it. I guess I’m used to it.

From the porch of our Swan River Cottage, we watched wildlife gather unafraid. Does and fawns nuzzled the wild undergrowth in the yard. Calliope hummingbirds dove and buzzed. We thought we might see the bears we’d been warned about. We really were out in the woods and it was a peaceful place to be on Thursday night after the elegant ceremony and burial rites, the well-presented luncheon, and a sweet family gathering at the condo Sandee and Bob rented. The last two days of our trip, we rested and visited with family.

We talked to my mom almost every day while we were gone. Dad told Mom to tell me that the deer were eating his okra and beans and that now they’d taken a few bites out of my roses. This is the first year we’ve even seen deer here on the ravine. Mom said she was going to perfume up some streamers to stretch around the rose bed. She said that seemed to work at the farm.

On Sunday morning, I changed the water in the plastic bottle of multi-colored roses from the Ronan florist and set them on a living room table before we left for the airport. I knew the landlady would enjoy them. She emailed me to say that we left the roses and that they were beautiful. “If these hold sentimental value for you, I’d be happy to press them for you,” she wrote. “I’ve never pressed flowers before but I’d be glad to try.”

“No,” I answered on my phone. “Just enjoy them until they’re gone. I left them for you.”

Why is it that the flight home seems shorter than the one going out? We drove in the garage about 10:30 Sunday night feeling not too tired. On Monday, I checked the deer damage to the rose garden. Bambi’s mama didn’t do too much harm. She only ate what she could easily reach. But there were those red plumes and wimpy-but-thorny canes sticking out of most of the roses in the garden that I noticed a couple of weeks before we went to Montana. I had vowed to find out what to do about that and get them all cleaned up as soon as we got back home.

“I do wonder what causes that,” I thought. Since there were three red rosebushes on the way from Heirloom Roses and I did not yet know where I was going to plant them, I strolled around the property looking for a spot where Dad could see the new roses from his window. He loves red flowers.

Laundry, doctor appointments, and other duties took precedent over the rose bed and it wasn’t until the new roses arrived on the following Saturday that I headed outside to survey the placement possibilities. I thought perhaps I might move a mini on one side of the rose garden and I could plant one of the reds there. The mini really needed a pot.

“Okay,” I thought, seeing again the dark red broom-like branches and extra thorns on the roses, “I’ve put this off long enough. I may as well go inside and see what’s causing this and get that resolved before I start planting the new ones.”

Photos and articles on the internet named the disease in my rose garden: Rose Rosette Disease, a fatal, incurable mite-borne disease. There’s hardly anything one can do to prevent it except to dig up and destroy any plant showing symptoms, especially a nearby wild rose.

The two Dublin climbers would have to go. One Pink Lady in the big lower garden was infected. In the rose garden, Blue Girl, Blue Skies, Lemon Spice, Imagine, Jude the Obscure, Café Ole, The Alnwick Rose, and one of the Deep Secret—they all had to go.

Dave told me to check to see how late the dump was open on Saturdays.  I asked the lady who answered the phone what they might do with my infected roses if, per her instruction, we were to deposit them on the “mulch pile”. Diseased roses cannot be composted; they really need to be burned.

“That’s just what we call it, the mulch pile,” she said. “The place that I’m telling you—all that gets burned.”

We dug and wrapped and loaded. We tied down the overflowing bed full of thorny discards. I drove.

“Did you hear back from the guy from the Rose Society?” Dave asked.

“Yeah, I did. I think I’m going to join the Nashville Rose Society. He was good help. I think I would have known if I’d been going to their meetings.”

“Would knowing have made a difference?” Dave asked.

“Well, he said if you can get the infected plants early on, you might save some of the others. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost so many.”

“Did you tell him you have three that don’t have it?”

“Yes, and he said he would just take a ‘wait and see’ attitude toward those.”

“I wonder why they didn’t get it. That one red rose was right between two sick ones.”

“That was one of the Deep Secrets. It’s the one that tried to die when we first planted it, remember? It seems it was stunted for three years. And then, that little yellow one, it’s a mini and it doesn’t appear that the small mini’s got any of the rose rosette at all.”

“That little white one seems to be doing great. It’s not a mini, is it? Isn’t that the one you brought over from the other house?”

“Yep. That’s Glamis Castle. I’m sure glad we didn’t have to dig that one up.”


Author: Diana Blair Revell

With both parents gone, we’ve left the Compound and moved to a smaller setting. There’s a sadness, but there’s a new beginning, too! I used to be a healthcare executive. I don’t miss it. Before that, I worked in radio and cable TV. I miss radio most of all. Radio has to be the most hilarious and fun place to work. Now I do some writing and give my attention to Dave and Dixie, our four-year-old Shih-poo. My parents were with us for thirteen years. Dad passed away in 2018, and Mom died June 24, 2022. We miss them. I garden, cook, clean, play anything with a keyboard, and believe in the power of Love.

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