I recently received this email from a reader.
“For years and years, my husband and I have noticed (and enjoyed) the lovely flowers in the particular window of a certain house. They change, of course, with the seasons, but they seem to change much more often than that. They are probably artificial, but it doesn’t matter. We always notice when we drive from our home on Laurel Street to Shandon Baptist for church on Sunday. It’s in eager anticipation that we get closer to see what new colors await us. The house is on the right, on Forest Drive going toward Richland Mall. It’s close to Middleburg. We rather imagine a beautiful, smart lady making a conscious and proud decision about Thursday or Friday about what to display this week. We bet it’s been over 20-plus years. What a gift, we think, to drivers who pass by. We can only imagine a great story behind these flowers.”
Well, imagine no more, dear reader. Indeed, the story is one of flowers in a window that signify a long and abiding friendship. It is told by Jack Mattison, who owns the small brick home now.
The house was built in the 1930s for Phoebe Singley Callahan.
“Her father built it as her wedding present,” Mattison said. “That was probably 1936 or 1937.”
Some 30 years later, Mattison said he had his “heart broken in Hartsville. I was 26 years old. I had graduated from Clemson University with a degree in history. I got a job teaching history in Columbia, at E.L. Wright Middle School. Mrs. Callahan had a room for rent. Her husband had died. I came here and I liked her and she must have liked me.”
So Mattison rented the room for $35 a month.
“At first I was just in and out,” Mattison said. “Mrs. Callahan had had trouble with her eyesight all her life. She was about 50 years old when her eyesight really began giving her trouble. She was legally blind. She could see enough (to read) with a magnifying glass. So, I would drive her to the grocery store, to visit friends. That’s kind of what broke the ice.”
Mattison then began doing other chores for Callahan. He worked in her yard, caring for the camellias and azaleas. He built shelves in her attic. He cleaned for her.
“It was a gradual thing. It just became a friendship. She was like a second mother to me. She was highly, highly intelligent. She was fun and she was generous. I would watch TV with her. She knew the Bible very well. We talked about everything. Whatever was on her mind or whatever was on my mind.”
As Callahan grew older, her health failed. She had no children. Mattison and a cadre of nurses cared for her. When Callahan died in 2000, Mattison was by her bedside.
So what about the beautiful flowers, always appearing in the picture window for all these many years?
“Ever since Mrs. Callahan had this house, she’d had flowers in the window. When she died, I put an arrangement in the window with a black ribbon.”
Mattison then stayed on in the home, which Callahan had given him, and he said “it just didn’t seem proper” not to have flowers in the window.
“Most people (driving by) would not know what the flowers mean,” he said.
So, what do they mean?
“I continue to the put the flowers in the window because she was such a great, great lady. I won’t let her die. It’s a symbol of a great lady.”
And of a long and abiding friendship.
Know of a story that needs to be told? Email Salley at email@example.com.