Spectacular: Part 3

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WENDY HODGE

When last we met, I was standing on the hill overlooking the crowd gathered for the Daylily Spectacular at Bell’s Daylily Garden in Sycamore, Georgia. Tim and I had made our purchases in the bargain line and bought our raffle tickets for the drawing that would be held at the end of the day. While Tim went for snacks, I took a few minutes to people watch. 

“Nancy!” one round, little lady calls from the other side of the snack pavilion. 

“Ruth!” an equally round little lady calls back. 

They meet in the middle of the lawn and hug like long-lost besties. 

Behind them stands a group of men who are deep in conversation about their composting techniques. 

“It’s the eggs that are the key to good composting. Throw a few hard-boiled eggs in your bin, and your lilies will double in size.” 

“My wife can’t stand the smell. She’s delicate like that, so I use coffee grounds and …”

A child’s cry interrupts the conversation, and all heads turn. A new grandbaby is on the premises, and the women surge forward like a wave on the beach. 

“Isn’t she adorable!” is repeated several times, along with “Look at those cheeks!” and “She looks just like her mama!”

The Spectacular is a reunion of sorts. The same groups of friends and die-hard daylily collectors attend every year. Some drive from as far away as Maryland or Indiana for the chance to snag some beauties and catch up with old friends. Standing on the edge of all the activity, just watching, feeds my soul. There’s enough good will and friendship here to heal a tired heart. 

Mr. Bell, the owner of this lovely place, claps for everyone’s attention. 

“It’s time for the action, everybody!” he calls out. 

Tim appears by my side, and we head down to the pavilion to take our spots in the same seats we occupied last year and the year before. Tim’s mom sits to my right. 

“I’m so excited,” she whispers. 

“Me, too,” I whisper back. 

This is the main event — the auction. We’ve been given several printed sheets of a couple hundred different varieties of daylilies pictured in rows covering the pages. The colors are as vivid as the names. Each type of daylily will be auctioned off at prices far below the usual cost. Mr. Bell is the best kind of auctioneer on the planet. He’s funny, self-deprecating, humble and hilarious. We spend as much time laughing together as a group as we do bidding on flowers. 

I peruse the sheet, deciding which ones I want to bid on. So many catch my eye, but I have a budget. Tim and I confer and make a tiny check mark next to the ones we want to try to win. Our goals are modest; we have no illusions that we can actually win one of the $200 or $250 lilies. The bidding for those will surely go beyond our maximum bid of $40. 

And so the bidding begins. The first daylily is bought, and the second, and the third. The chatter among the tables is low but excited. Next up is one I would love to have. It’s a deep purple beauty that is valued at $100. I raise my numbered sign in the air when the bidding starts. Within moments, the price has gone beyond my reach. 

Shrugging my shoulders and smiling at Tim, I lower my card and wait for the next one that we’d like to bid on. 

Every so often, the bidding is interrupted with the giving away of door prizes. Registration numbers (the same number that’s on our bidding card) are placed in a Bingo-style tumbler, and Mr. Bell reaches in to grab a winning number. 

“Number 95,” he calls out. “Number 99… Number 89.” 

My number is 92. So close, and yet so far…

The bidding resumes. I turn to page three of the auction sheets, and right in the center is a picture of the most beautiful flower I’ve ever seen. Spiderman’s Nemesis. It is a deep burnt orange color with ruffled spider petals that are a purple so dark they’re almost black. It’s a $200 daylily, and I want it so bad it hurts. 

“There’s no way I can win this one,” I whisper to Tim. “It won’t ever sell for as low as $40.” 

“Nope. Not in a million years,” he agrees with me. 

Still, I look at the picture and calculate again what my budget is. If I don’t bid on anything else, I could maybe go as high as $60. That won’t be enough, I tell myself. 

The bidding continues. Tim buys a beauty  — “Christmas Pearl.” It’s so white it glows. 

More door prizes are awarded. 

“Number 90!” 

Tim’s mom squeals. “That’s me!” She raises her card in the air, and one of the workers brings her a bulb. The label reads, “Zara’s Balloons.” We look it up in the catalog. It is a stunning, huge bloomer with a strawberry red border and a coral center ring. The throat is a lemon yellow. “That’s a $100 lily,” I tell her. 

“Well, I’m in love,” she responds. I watch her tuck the bud in her canvas bag and smile knowing how happy she is. 

Lunch interrupts the action, but it’s a welcome break. We have been smelling the barbecue for a bit now. We line up in four rows on either side of two tables and fill our plates with pulled pork barbque, baked beans, coleslaw and dinner rolls. Sweet tea is poured, and dessert is sliced up. A silence descends as 200 hungry folks take their fill. 

It doesn’t take long for the lunch break to end. Tables are cleared, and the auction begins again. We are getting close to Spiderman’s Nemesis. Oh, how I wish I could win that beauty! 

“It’s next,” Tim leans over to whisper. 

“I know. No point in even trying, is there?” I ask. 

He shrugs his shoulders at me. Lunch has made his eyes heavy.

“Next up is Spiderman’s Nemesis,” Mr. Bell calls out. “I have three of these. This is a $200 lily — a real stunner. The bidding starts at $20.”

My card is resting on the table. No way I will win this one. 

But…

Maybe it’s the lunch-induced torpor that has settled over the crowd. Or maybe it’s one of those weird moments that happen when an entire group of people is just not paying attention. Whatever the case may be, there are only a couple of hands in the air. 

I grab my card and raise it high… 

TO BE CONTINUED

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