Thursday, October 22, 2009


The best Swamp Magnolias in Powesheik County grow along the banks of the Deep River, just north of the town that shares its name. There is a grove, if you can call it that, which is split in half by the river. Their branches reach out to each other, straining to touch. In late spring their flowers fall into the river.

At that time of year a man by the name of Warren Guthrie used to sit on the muddy bank and watches as the petals drift lazily down the small shallow river. It wouldn't be right to describe Warren as a smart or happy man. He spent his life avoiding such things. His youth was wasted smoking marijuana in abandoned barns, and drinking stolen liquor in the darkness of Deep River's only movie theater. It didn't matter what movie or what barn, just as long as the whiskey was strong or the smoke was thick.

When he dropped out of High School he joined the military, and spent three years of the Korean War on a military base in Virginia, smoking dope and drinking beer. He was discharged, dishonorably, and he returned home.

He spent the better part of his life working as the worst mechanic in town. The cars he fixed usually came back months or even weeks later in worse condition. If word had gotten out at how poor of a mechanic he was the good people of Deep River would never have patronized Earl's Garage and Auto-Body Repair. Earl was a shrewd business man though and kept Warren on, he would rotate Warren from customer to customer, never letting him work on the same car twice. Earl explained this to his wife Sylvia saying "That boy doubles my business, it is getting to the point where people around here think their cars just fall apart." It was true.

Warren rarely talked when he smoked or drank, he just sat there with the same blank look on his face, as if he was watching the magnolia flowers drift slowly down Deep River.

When Warren died, of cancer at the age of 78, the county had to come and collect his body. He hadn't married, and there was no next of kin. These were unusual circumstances in Powesheik County, most people there had enough cousins to make dating a treacherous endeavor. It isn't unusual to find couples on their first dates reciting their family trees, looking for the branch that overlaps.

In his will Warren asked to be cremated and to have his ashes spread among the grove of magnolia trees. The county sent Glen Carrol out to search for the grove. It took three weeks of looking up and down both sides of Deep River before Glen realized that Swamp Magnolias don't grow in Poweshiek County, the winter kills them before they have a chance to take root.

So Warren's remains were spread under the branches of a stand of Dogwood trees. Now during the summer months Glen Carrol thinks of Warren Guthrie when he sees the white flowers of Dogwood trees.

We should all be so lucky.

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