The magic begins at 8:39 p.m. in a garden in a backyard on Quinine Hill in Columbia.
As a member of the audience, it’s best to wait next to the fence that surrounds the garden. If you’ve never seen this sort of magic show, you may stand there wondering what it will be like or when the magicians will appear or really, if it was worth it to come all this way.
After all, the mosquitoes are here too. And they’re hungry. And what about that TV program you’re missing?
But, you stand there anyway and you wait because you’ve been told you’re in for something real special.
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And suddenly, one of the many tiny magicians begins its performance. “There, see!” says a member of the audience, a man who has been here before and knows what to look for.
You grasp the fence a little tighter and follow his pointed finger to the closed blossom of an evening primrose. It is about the size of a wooden clothespin. Maybe a bit shorter. It hangs from a deep green stem that is attached to a long, sturdy stalk.
And it begins to tremble. Shortly thereafter – within seconds, really – the closed blossom opens like a tiny umbrella and before you know it, before you can shut your mouth that has dropped wide open from the sight of such a thing, a bright yellow blossom has unfurled toward the night sky.
You are silent, mesmerized. Time-lapse photography is one thing; this is quite another. The hand of God. The work of nature. The mystery of life. The things we don’t know and can’t control and stand in exquisite awe of because we are human beings and because when we watch things happen like this we know we are small in a good way and surrounded by something much bigger in a really good way.
And then you utter something like “Oh my gosh!” or “I can’t believe this!”
But it’s all very real.
The evening primroses in the garden in the backyard of the country home on Quinine Hill – an old neighhorhood near Richland Mall in Forest Acres – belong to 94-year-old Frankie Garrick.
She adores these flowers and every early summer, when they are about to bloom, she sticks a cardboard sign in her side yard, out by the street, inviting passersby to come see the magic show:
“Evening Primroses. Opening Tonight. 8:39 p.m.”
The vast garden was the inspiration of Lonnie Garrick Jr., her late husband.
“Lonnie went and practically plowed up the whole backyard, enough for a garden,” she said earlier this week. “He had all of his plans drawn and then he built a greenhouse and started growing plants.”
Primroses, for the uninitiated, take patience. The plant grows close to the ground the first year and does not produce blossoms. The second year, the plant returns and a tall stalk grows out of its center. On that stalk, blossoms will appear. During a two-week period in the early summer, after the sun has set, each of those blossoms unfurls, but just once, for less than 24 hours.
For at least 10 years, people have been gathering in Garrick’s backyard to see the primroses, in all their beautiful, brief glory.
“It’s like being a kid at an amusement park,” said Garrick’s neighbor, John Monroe.
It also can be therapeutic.
“There is nobody that walks into this yard who doesn’t have difficulties or sadness or some kind of issue they’re dealing with,” said Jane Garrick Dyke, Garrick’s daughter. “But when you come out here, you put that down for 20 minutes. You take a breath.”
And you take time to watch.
“It’s all God’s work,” Mrs. Garrick said. “There’ll be a luminous glow over the garden. There’ll be 25 people out here, people who don’t know each other. They focus on the awe that occurs when they are watching this. It’s a thrill for them to watch the process. They’re looking at something bigger than they are.”
They’re looking at a most special and moving magic show.
Know of a story that needs telling? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. McInerney is a writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia in the early 60s.