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Wednesday, 16 February 2011 20:39

What is up with fake flowers as memorials to the departed?

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By Scott Muirhead • Guest Columnist

Politics aside, what could possibly be more absurd than plastic flowers? (OK, there are hundreds of things, I know, but we’re on a tight schedule here. Besides, polyethylene gladioli are long overdue for a bashing.)

Fake flowers seem to be the darlings of those who obviously do not grasp the concept of real flowers. But to avoid stumbling into a pit of poetic mush, let’s just say that the bittersweet joy of flowers, ahem, stems from their impermanence. Whether on the vine or bush or in a gilded vase, flowers die. We bring them indoors fragrant and fresh, luminescent and vibrant, then in a few days they shrivel and blacken and die. It is then that they are unceremoniously but with admitted satisfaction dropped into a trash bag. They had for a few days splendidly served as one of our better metaphors for life, which, like the flowers, is real and limited.

Meanwhile, plastic flowers, those illegitimate offspring of the oil fields, those insolent phonies squat on the credenza reeking of cheap commercialism, collecting dust and never changing. Life is not like that, although I suspect there are wives within the readership of this very newspaper who consider their husbands to be a lot like plastic flowers.

Maybe fake flowers are good for guilt. You can place a plastic bouquet of jasmine and hydrangea by a tombstone, and you don’t have to come back for months. Best of all, no guilt! Everybody who happens by will think you had just been there that morning.

Otherwise, the point of artificial blooms eludes me. I suppose they are economical. They never go away, and money spent on real daffodils and roses could be more enjoyably applied at Burger King or for a cell phone upgrade. In all its shapes and forms and embodiments, plastic is eternal, you know.

Plastic flowers are especially tedious for those who travel interstate highways, where every 50 feet or so there is a little makeshift memorial, a wad of mud-spattered chrysanthemums adorning what may appear to be a rhinestone studded candy box left over from Valentine’s Day.

The memorials are a bit of a distraction, actually. Drivers are craning their necks trying to read the epitaphs at 70 miles an hour, on the outside chance they know something about the departed. Such behavior will inevitably result in even more roadside plastic.

There is something quizzical about the interstate testimonials. If a homeowner falls and breaks his neck cleaning gutters, does his wife rush to K-Mart for a buggy full of fake baby’s breath and Queen Anne’s lace? Does she jab a little PVC lilac cross in the ground at the head of the deceased? No. She collects the insurance and hightails it to the casino. But just let that dolt husband of hers get killed on the highway and see what happens. There’ll be plastic purple tulips everywhere!

And probably there is not a church house in the land whose narthex or altar is not — shall we say — adorned with the colorful petals and leaves of a Taiwanese injection mold factory. There is something ironic about that artificiality.

But where the utilitarian beauty of fake flora is most abundant is in our delicately manicured graveyards, where spring springs eternal. Why visit the gardens of Biltmore? You can see all the pretty flowers you want, anytime of year, right down the street at the nearby cemetery. But what about the poignancy that is life? Isn’t it dying and death that make life so precious?

And lest you think me a completely callous monster, I confess I am not immune to the sadness that sometimes accompanies the death of a family member or business associate. But I like to mark the occasion with real cut flowers. In a few days they, like the memory of the dearly departed, wilt and vanish. You can read all about it in Ecclesiastes.

(Scott Muirhead claims to have enrolled in a sensitivity course in college, but admits he dropped out after a few minutes. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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