By WENDY HODGE
When last we met, Tim and I and his parents (along with a couple hundred other daylily fanatics) were on our feet ready for the annual Spectacular at Bell’s Garden to begin. If you’ve ever been in line for a music legend to perform at Madison Square Garden or camped out for the latest Apple product release or waited in line to get your picture taken with Brad Pitt, it can’t possibly compare with the buzz of electricity that rippled in the air under the tent at the end of a dirt road in Sycamore, Georgia, on this September Saturday morning. Of course I’ve never been to Madison Square Garden, I own a Samsung phone and Brad Pitt has never been to Opelika, so what do I know?
But the energy as the clock struck 8 a.m. was palpable. To our right, rows of tables are set up with small plastic bins lined up like kindergarten cubbies. Each bin has a laminated picture attached to it representing the type of daylily bud resting inside. The pictures are stunning. Each of these daylilies, though they are only buds now, will be a work of art when they bloom next year.
These daylilies range in price from $25 to $100, but for this one magical day they are reduced to as low as $5 each. This is, in essence, the Black Friday of the daylily world. Little old ladies have worn their sneakers and brought their biggest canvas bags in preparation for this event. Their husbands have brought their wallets and their patience.
We are given the signal that the bargain tables are open, and the line surges forward. It is a first-come, first-served affair, so we maintain the line. But it takes everything in us not to race from bin to bin. The woman in front of me is, I kid you not, stopping to google the specifics of each lily before reaching in to grab one. I bite my tongue so hard I may not taste my complimentary barbecue lunch later.
The chatter around is deafening. Little old ladies are calling out to each other from different sections of the line. “Save me one of those,” someone shouts. “Grab one of those for me,” another yells.
We fall into a rhythm, Tim and I. It is what we’ve practiced in an effort to avoid what we did last year. Thinking we could cover more ground if we split up, we had both filled our bags to the brim. When we returned home and discovered we had reached into the same bin more than once and bought duplicates and even bought varieties we already owned, we vowed to have a better plan. So this year, Tim and I stick together. He calls out the name, I do a quick mental check of our personal catalog of lilies and give the signal to grab one.
“Aunt Ootz,” he yells.
“Yes, take it!” I answer.
“How about Christmas in Oz?” he shouts.
“We have two of those in the front yard,” I respond.
“Bowtie Affair?” he hollers.
“Bowtie Affair? Yes, grab it quick!” I holler back.
Within minutes we have made our way to the end of the bargain table. It’s time to pay. We dump our beauties on the table and wait for the tally. The adrenaline rush is at its peak — this must be like a runner’s high (it’s been a decade or two since I did more than sprint to the fridge, so I have only a vague recollection).
Satisfied that we have made the most of our few minutes of bargain table madness, Tim takes our bags to the truck. We meet at the raffle table. There are two large, clear, acrylic boxes sitting on either end. Beside them are two huge, laminated posters on easels with pictures of a dozen of the most expensive daylily varieties Bell’s has to offer. Two boxes, two posters, two amazing giveaways.
We dig into the cash we buried in our pockets and buy a roll of tickets. Standing in the drizzle, with the noise of those still in line under the tent drifting toward us, we tear our tickets and drop them into the boxes.
“This is our year,” I tell Tim.
“I know,” he responds. “I just dropped the winning ticket in that box.” He winks at me and says, “Let’s grab a snack.”
Halfway down the hill is a pavilion crowded with picnic tables covered with drinks and food. There are Cokes and Sprites floating in buckets of ice, baskets overflowing with peanuts and granola bars, M&Ms and Snickers, and trays of apples and grapes. Several coffee machines are percolating like crazy while old men with their hands in their pockets stand and wait for the liquid energy they need to make it through the day.
Tim joins the line behind coffee machine No. 2 while I opt for something chocolate and a Coke. In the midst of the noise and the drizzle and the chaos, I stand apart for a moment and do my favorite thing: people-watch and eavesdrop. I have never been disappointed by time spent catching a glimpse of the stories playing out around me.
And today is no exception….
TO BE CONTINUED