On a cool November evening, I walked up to my friends' house, just a couple of minutes late for dinner because of the rush hour traffic. They had invited a couple of us to share some leftovers, and I was hungry.
As I approached the door, I noticed the beautiful potted flowers sitting on their porch. So beautiful. Too beautiful for this late in the fall. These mums were full and bright, lively oranges and rich magentas. My mums sitting in front of my house all had withered blossoms and wilted leaves.
Are those real? I thought to myself, as I leaned over close enough to see that there was real dirt in the pot. So just before I rang the doorbell, I reached over and rubbed one of the leaves between my fingers. Then I touched one of the blossoms just to be sure. They were silky.
Artificial flowers, I said under my breath, marveling at how real they looked. I need to remember that.
After dinner, we were sitting around drinking decaf coffee and enjoying bowls full of hot apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. The conversation turned to plants, as my friend had a potted succulent waiting to be transplanted. We each talked about our experiences with plants, how watering regularly confounded us, how certain greenery had nearly done us in.
"What did you think of my flowers on the front porch?" my friend asked.
I felt the blood rise to my face. Had she seen me through the window, stooping down to rub the leaves between my fingers?
"Why, did you see me?" I asked, believing myself to be caught.
"What? No," she said. "Wait, what do you mean?"
"Before I rang the doorbell, I touched them," I confessed. "They were too beautiful for this time of the year to be real. Did you see me touch them?"
We all laughed. No one had seen me; had I played it cool, my secret touch could have remained just that: secret.
The real joke was that apparently the real trick to keeping beautiful flowers on the porch all year round was adjusting for the seasons, and my friend was just a little behind the cold front that had swept over our city just a few days before.
"Next week I'm switching to something for Christmas," she said, as though she was preparing me.
I'll still probably touch the poinsettias next time I stop by. Just to be sure.
I've been thinking of that sneaky feel of the front porch flowers this week as we get started with Advent.
Every time I light the candles (I'm lighting them every day of Advent this year, not just Sundays), I feel like I'm taking a little bit of heaven between my fingers, feeling to see if it's real.
And so far, every time, the answer is "yes."
I met Christine Keegan last week with There and Back Again. This week, she is writing about Advent. Visit her here.
You might also enjoy High Calling blogger Suzie Lind's post, The First Candle.
And don't forget to join our writing project by slipping your URL into the link up in this Advent post.