On the surface, Where the Lilies Bloom is a quaint story of an Appalachian mountain family, struggling to get by. However, the title itself tells the depth of a story that is meaningful to girls everywhere.
The crux of the story is based on two promises fourteen year old Mary Call made to her father – to keep the siblings together, and not to let Devola marry Kiser Pease, no matter what.
Over the years we have heard the term: Parenting by Proxy, the creating of a surrogate parent out of one of the children, usually the strongest. In my forty plus years, I have seen this happen time and time again, just as it has to Mary Call in the story. Often she will lament that she is raising three children, although Devola is four years older than herself. After the loss of their mother, Mary Call, the smartest of the lot, is put in this position. Look around at the girls you know. How many of them are raising their siblings by proxy? It happens to boys too, but most often to girls. It doesn’t just happen in single-parent households. This is also one of the drawbacks to two working parents.
Mary Call places a burden on herself to keep the secret of her father’s death from the community. She does this out of fear of the siblings being placed in separate foster homes and adopted out to families, never to see each other again. Children today do the same thing, only for different reasons. Perhaps it is a parent’s addiction, or abuse, or homelessness. The basis of the fear is just the same.
The Luther children have always dealt with the idea they are mountain folk, and don’t necessarily fit in with their more affluent urban classmates at school. Poverty is more than an economic issue. It leaves scars on children they will carry with them their whole lives. Sure, many become greater than that of their childhood, but the scars are always there. Mary Call, in addition to the stress and burdens of home, has to deal with the taunting and teasing from her peers. I don’t need to go into the effects of bullying on children. However, in Mary Call’s case she takes it in stride, always keeping her eyes focused on the mission; until winter comes.
The winters of our lives are always the most difficult to navigate. Winter is the season in which all things come to an end, in preparation for a new beginning. Mary Call is faced with the possibility of starvation, homelessness, and losing her sisters and brother, regardless of all the efforts she has put into keeping her promises.
Love is a blinding thing. The love Mary Call had for her father, blinded her to the help that was readily available, and offered throughout the story. Mary Call was bound to the promise of keeping the siblings together. However, the promise she made regarding her sister, Devola, was the very thing that could save them all – from everything. If only she could get past her father’s prejudices against a man he didn’t really know at all. He hated Kiser Pease for who he was, and no other reason.
This is important so listen up. We feed our children love and hate every day, regarding everything from the flavor of ice cream to the color of someone’s skin. Sometimes the heaping helpings of love we show to our children only serve to validate the hate we are feeding them at the same time. Children who love their parents do not want to disappoint or disobey those same parents. Out of love they learn to hate. I want you to think about that for a long time. Think about what you say in front of your children, about whom, and why.
Mary Call is a young girl who lives within the pages of one of the best coming of age stories ever written for girls.
We, women, are a fair land, the fairest of them all, because we are where the lilies bloom. It is our duty and obligation as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and friends, and members of the community – great and small, to ensure the garden is well tended that the lilies will bloom in due time.
Through literature, we learn to live, to love, and to conquer.