"What!" I said before I knew it as my heart crashed through the floor. My perfect gift - ruined!
That's what you get for waiting until the last minute to buy your tickets, I heard a voice say.
I thought I left my Mother at home.
"Yeah, we sold out this morning," the cashier repeated, "but you can buy tickets at the first house on the tour."
"So, let me get this straight. I can buy tickets at the first house on the tour, but is there any chance that the tour will sell out?"
"No, I don't think so." She blew a big pink bubble of gum. Pop! "Here, I'll write down the address to the first house for you. It's right around the corner. I can also give you directions."
She handed me the slip of paper and I sped off.
I wanted the tickets in my hands when I picked up my Mother to eliminate any possibility of future embarrassment - besides, I didn't want her to see that I waited until last minute to purchase tickets. So, I zipped down Roswell Road and onto Habersham into the green pulsing heart of Buckhead.
As I neared the house, passing estate after estate, I saw snowstorms of old White women in florals, in pastels, in white; in Panama hats and visors; with their sons or with their daughters; smiling, laughing, snapping pictures - all in all having a good time. As I walked up to the information table set up on the street, I felt good about my choice.
"I was just at the Buckhead Pike Nurseries up the street," I said to the official-looking blonde in the white sunhat, sitting in a lawn chair, who'd been chatting to a security officer, "and they told me they'd sold out of tickets. They said that I could purchase them here."
"Well, actually, we've sold out too."
My eyes widened.
"But it's no problem," she smiled, continuing in her almost-theatrical drawl. "What we've been doing is giving people these programs," she opened one, "and signing them here. We ran out of tickets early this morning. The demand for the tour has been a lot greater than we expected this year."
"Do you take Visa?"
Okay, now you're pushing it.
She looked around the table. "No, we don't have a machine here. Unfortunately, we're only able to take cash."
"Okay, then." I was cashless. Off to the ATM! "I'll be back."
"Alright, we'll be here!"
It was five before one, which was five minutes before I told my Mom I'd pick her up, and I was still in Buckhead, at least 30 minutes away.
"Mom, I'm running about a half-hour behind." I said. "I'll see you about 1:30."
"Oh, okay," she said.
Naturally, the Braves would be playing at 1:00, which meant there would be a rough ride through downtown. Nevertheless, I pulled up in my parents' driveway at 1:25.
Before I could even ring the doorbell, the door flew open.
"I'm ready!" she said in her pink cotton top, white pants, and sandals. "Are these shoes fine? You said we'd be doing a lot of walking."
"They should be fine."
"What about this hat? You think I'll need it?"
"Yeah, you should take it just in case."
"And I brought my camera. You think I'll want to take pictures?"
"It would probably be a good idea."
Boy, she was excited, and she didn't even know where we were going! Could it be that she was just excited about spending time with me?
And we were off.
As we pulled up to the first home on the tour just before 2:00, I handed my Mother the brochure.
"This is what we're going to see. The Atlanta Botanical Gardens has put together this garden tour of ten-or-so private homes in Buckhead that have opened themselves up to the public for viewing."
"These are actual people's houses?"
"Are we going to walk to all ten houses?"
"No, they're in the same general neighborhood but they're not close enough to walk to. We'll be driving to them. So, we'll only visit about 4 or 5, depending on how you feel."
"Oh, okay. Does my hair look okay in this hat?"
"Yes, Mom, you look great."
I paid for our signed-brochures-substituting-for-tickets and we walked up the driveway of 3018 Habersham Road.
You couldn't see the house from the street for all of the foliage. And I had no idea what to expect as we stepped onto the property, onto a shady wooden path and into a deep green world. It must have been ten degrees cooler in here beneath the trees. And 30-or-so yards on the slightly-inclined gravel walkway, the winding path opened up to a patch of sky, splitting in two - one path leading up a hill where we could just see the peaked roof of the house; the other path swung out disappearing around a bend.
Various guests ahead of us audibly oohed and aaahed.
"To your right is a more natural garden," a woman with a name tag, standing at the split, said. "Upward and to your left is a more formal one. I'd recommend going to your right first, and you can come back this way when you leave."
Various pink, white, and yellow exotic blossoms perfumed the path we walked as we crossed over a short bridge. A man-made brook gurgled beneath. Surrounded by classical stone sculptures of plants and cats and birds, green bursting all over - far from traffic, from smog - it was hard to remember that we were still within Atlanta city limits. That this garden unfolding before us, which was on some of the most expensive real estate in the city, added to its impressiveness. I couldn't fathom how much this acreage must cost in this part of town, much less how much it cost to maintain it.
"Oooh look at the rhododendrons," my Mother said. "Aren't they beautiful?"
"Yes." I smiled. "They are."
"And ooh, look at these trees. Look at the beautiful white blossoms... And look at that tree."
It was like walking into an issue of Better Homes & Gardens - except I was actually enjoying it. That is, because she was enjoying it. At the end of the gravel path, we came to the back of the ample two-story house with a cascade of steps down to the pool, where vines of white roses climbed up brick walls and the back of the house.
"Oh my," she said. "Let me take a picture." She snapped with her digital cam. "How do you think it turned out?" she asked, showing me the shot.
"Fine," I said, looking at her smile. "Just fine."