The Sunflower (public domain image)

By Melissa Misner

Part-memoir, part short-story, this genre-bending piece by WSU student Melissa Misner explores the complex intersection of imagination and adulthood through the experiences of a 6-year old named Eleanor.

This is both a memoir and a fictional short story about what happens when I see a sunflower – a memoir because this narrative explains one of my personal attributes, and a short story because, as I was growing up, I began creating a concrete, mythical idea of what I conceptualize when I see a sunflower.

From an early age, passing by a sunflower has enabled me to envision a realistic story whenever I close my eyes. When I close them, there is a father, theoretically named Andrew, and his daughter, theoretically named Eleanor. The father owns a ten-acre plantation in the small town of New Oxford, Pennsylvania. The girl is six years old and is infatuated with sunflowers.

One mid-March day, Andrew and Eleanor drive twenty-five minutes into the town’s local Home Depot. Sunflower seeds, fertilizer, and a white picket fence is on Andrew’s shopping list. They grab the seeds and the fertilizer first since it’s the lightest. He gives Eleanor the responsibility of carrying both the seeds and the fertilizer. Andrew has been planning to buy a white picket fence for his sunflower field, since he discovered the previous year the importance of dissuading wild animals from entering. There are three choices of picket fences to pick from. One has wider pickets that curve in the middle with dome pickets every eleventh one. The second one has pickets that are flat at the tops and do not have a curve. The third one has pointed pickets at the tops which also do not have a curve. Andrew asks Eleanor which one she fancies, and, as aesthetic as she is, she chooses the first option. The box’s heaviness enables the father to hurriedly carry the box full of unassembled pieces to the cash register. Eleanor follows behind with the seeds and the fertilizer. He places the three things on the counter, pays, and then they walk out to the car. On their drive back, they discuss their plans for the fence and sunflower field. He announces his desire to complete the fence the following day and plant the seeds before the month ends.        

Eleanor and her father are at the breakfast table the next morning. It’s their predictable routine every morning at 9 o’clock. It’s also a morning ritual of making his family’s famous chocolate chip pancakes with scrambled eggs and a side of bacon, paired perfectly with grandmother’s homemade orange juice. She pleads to him about how much she wants to help her father build the fence. He thinks about it to himself for quite some time, and he eventually allocates her the duty of handing him the nails.

After they finish their breakfast, they clean the dishes. He washes them while she dries and puts them back in their original spot. When they’re done, Andrew takes the box, and he and Eleanor walk outside, about one hundred meters toward the field. Andrew lays the box down, takes one end, and cuts it open with his pocket knife. He places the pieces on the ground and hands the bag of nails to Eleanor. There are eight fragments – each have eleven pickets, plus the sixteen horizontal pieces. He glances through the instructions and begins hammering one fragment into the ground. Eleanor hands him a nail and he hammers two of the horizontal pieces onto the fence. They continue this method eight times. It takes them about two hours to finish. It’s about 2 o’clock when they begin to head back inside. After dinner, they finish their day with some chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and television.

The next afternoon, Andrew walks inside the fence and measures the soil at fifty-eight degrees Fahrenheit and detects the soil as well-drained, well-dug, and loose; just the perfect soil required for the seeds to sprout. Andrew deposits the compost and the low-nitrogen fertilizer as nutrient for the soil. The father leaves the field to grab a refreshing drink in his house as Eleanor plays hopscotch along the sidewalk. She encounters her father when he returns outside, and enthusiastically demands to help him plant the sunflower seeds. With a chuckle, he responds. Eleanor carries the handy dandy ruler as she and her father walk to the field. Andrew measures the holes within the twelve rows and five columns, and subsequently, he supervises Eleanor placing the seeds into the holes.

Every morning Eleanor waters the sunflowers, but on the fourteenth day she grins from ear to ear as she notices the growth of her precious sunflowers. She scampers back inside to awaken her father and enlighten him of the astounding news. He slowly rises out of bed as Eleanor pulls him by his finger to hurry him out of bed. Before he and Eleanor rush outside, he snatches the Polaroid from the dusty bedroom shelf. They walk to the field, and Andrew positions Eleanor in front of her beloved sunflowers as he snaps the Polaroid. He takes the photograph and hands her the everlasting picture.

They wait patiently for an additional eighty-five days for the sunflowers to bloom. But one day the daughter, as impatient as she is, decides to cut one out with the garden sheers, just three weeks shy. Its beautiful, yellow petals blowing freely one hot, summer day. The little girl plucks one petal, he likes me. Plucks another one, he likes me not. Thirty-nine petals later, he does like me! She keeps this secret from her father.

Eleanor met this boy last year in her kindergarten class. They sat next to each other, considering their last names follow one another. She liked him for his pretty, brown eyes and quiet personality. Also because he gave her one of his peanut butter crackers every snack time.

Eleanor hasn’t seen the boy since the summer began, but she continues making artwork inspired by her, the boy, and cliché flowers. Eleanor personally admires the use of blending yellows with reds and blues with purples, robot-shaped figures, and a sun rising in the background. When Eleanor notices her memorable talent and fixation with the boy, she spends countless hours outside under the tree shade with her drawing supplies and paper.

The countless hours outside under the tree shade with her drawing supplies and papers enable Eleanor to continue the enjoyment of drawing cliché sunflowers throughout her young, adult years, but as she improves they become more structurally exquisite. The majority of her paintings reside in museums near her hometown in Pennsylvania. Her famous piece of artwork is a painting that incorporates the Polaroid photo her father took of her when she was in front of the sunflower field. Her inspiration as a kid came from the boy and the sunflower field, and continues into her adult years. She names her collection, ‘The Sunflower’.

I open my eyes back to reality. As I continue on with my life, I will encounter sunflowers and remember how this idea came about. There is no clear-cut explanation of its origin, but I began this visualization at an early age. That said, the idea really originated with Eleanor, who is inspired to create art by her childhood.

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