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Sunflower memories, Sunflower hope

We could hail this the year of the sunflower.

In recent days, the ubiquitous standard-bearer has sprouted everywhere from social profiles to wreaths. What cheerier springtime symbol of love, peace and hope could there be?

In their season, they stand tall and defiant against a ruthless summer sun. They are a show of resistance against the bullying powers that besiege them. It’s Ukraine’s national flower, the brilliant yellow petals against a cloudless blue sky reflected in their flag.

For me, seeing sunflowers everywhere evokes warm family memories of my Uncle Dick and time spent wandering his sumptuous garden, which always included a troupe of tall beauties. Sunflowers, that is.

Each year about this time he would tuck his special variety of sunflower seeds into peat cups, setting them alongside tomato and pepper starts on a sunny ledge behind the fireplace. They went into the garden around mid-May, and by July he had towering, robust stalks with platter-sized flower heads bursting with seed.

This was an annual tradition for many years. I have a picture of myself and a friend as teens standing in our OSU T-shirts (neither of us attended, just tried to look cool) being dwarfed by giant specimens.

Though Uncle D saved plenty for planting the following season, come Christmas, if we were so favored, we would find a jar of salted seeds under the tree with a tag bearing our name. Everyone said they were the best sunflower seeds they’d ever tasted. He did that with popping corn as well. For my uncle’s memorial service, they passed a basket full of small packets. In the packets was a starter supply of his special seeds. I like to think they’re thriving in neighboring gardens to glory in the sunshine as a testament.

I asked my cousin Tommy, Uncle Dick’s son, if he recalled the variety of seed he used.

“Not sure if the original seed he planted was Mammoth or something else,” he said. “After 40 years or more of saving the biggest, fullest heads from the stoutest stalks, the seeds should be named for him.” I like the sound of Dover Gold.

For a local connection, we have Heavenly Valley Sunflowers in Gold Hill. They grow and sell a variety of cut sunflowers through several local markets, including Cartwright’s, Rainey’s Corner and Thunderbird Market.

I connected with Kathy from Heavenly Valley on Facebook, and she said, “I am wondering if I might find different opportunities to spread some sunflower love this summer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a simple sunflower could change a heart bent on destruction? That will take a higher power.”

Sunflowers are also fabulous for our pollinators, and in the world of art, they remind me of Vincent van Gogh, with his vibrant renditions. Martin Bailey, Van Gogh expert of www.theartnewspaper.com, said, “As Vincent van Gogh once put it in a letter to his brother Theo: “Nothing but sorrow comes out of war … there is only destruction. The situation in Ukraine is absolutely desperate, but hopefully the sunflowers which so inspired the artist will eventually become a symbol of peace and reconstruction.”

Ukraine is the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil. Expansive fields normally grow near areas where war now rages.

I pray for the farmers in Ukraine, that they will be able to obtain the seed, fertilizer and fuel required to realize their crops’ success this season and carry on the business of growing flowers instead of carrying guns.

Sunflowers have been celebrated as a public show of peace in Ukraine before. The Washington Post shared this: “In the summer of 1996, sunflowers were planted by officials at the Pervomaysk missile base in southern Ukraine to mark the removal of nuclear weapons from the country. The ceremony celebrated Ukraine’s abandonment of the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, which it inherited in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.”

Sunflowers turn their faces toward the sun. Those that do grow in Ukraine this year will turn to the east with the rising sun, toward their neighbor, Russia. Here’s hoping that Russia, too, will turn from conflict toward peace.

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer/author. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.