Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins
It rained the day I was born.
And it has rained most every year on my birthday since then. That’s what you get when you have a late September birthday. Rain. What else do you get? Spider lilies. The more rain, the more spider lilies.
As a child, I spent many an hour swinging by myself on the swing set in the yard of our big old rambling house. I would sing and swing, and sing and swing some more. Then I would pick flowers for a while. Then I would sing and swing some more. My favorite flowers were the spider lilies that would spring up every fall seemingly from nowhere. Not a bush, not a twig, not a bunch of leaves. Nothing to hint at the beauties to come. Just a green stalk shooting out of the ground crowned with a beautifully wild red frill.
I thought my house was named for the spider lilies that grew so abundantly because it was known as the Lilly House, but it was actually named for Leo and Millicent Lilly, who came to Citronelle, Alabama, in the mid-1880s. The Lillys established a dairy and raised chickens and sold eggs. By 1886, they had built the home that was ultimately ours — four rooms with a porch and a milk house on the back. The milk house later became our kitchen, and sometime along the way a bathroom was added too. Mrs. Lilly must have been an avid gardener because some 90 years later when we lived on that corner, there was still a field of narcissi, some asparagus that continued to come up behind the barn, and, of course, the spider lilies.
Japanese folklore says that if you encounter someone along the way whom you will never see again, spider lilies will bloom where you passed. Maybe that’s why the spider lilies were so abundant at the Lilly House. With every autumn, with every birthday, with every song, with every swing, I was passing the little girl I was, and, from that moment on, would never be again, and slowly growing into the woman I am today.
A woman who still loves to swing and sing and pick spider lilies.
Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog folkwaysnowadays.com.