I grew up in California. My mother grew roses, and they bloomed year round. Then I went to college in Ohio where snow blanketed the ground most of the time from November through March and nothing bloomed except in florists shops. My freshman year a young man seeking my favor gave me two yellow roses for my February birthday. I loved the roses (yellow roses were my favorites), but (unfortunately for him) not the young man. Those yellow roses were the one tiny spot of color in the first, very long, cold winter of my life. Their fragrance and color lasted in memory long after their petals were dust.
A year or two later, I was visiting my parents and had stopped in at the San Mateo Public Library. I was thumbing through various books, when a small slip of paper fell out. On the slip of paper scrawled in blue pen were the words "memory gathers roses in winter." The words burned themselves into my own memory. I've tried to incorporate them into poems at least a half-dozen times in the past 35 years. Here's one more try:
memory gathers roses in winter
filling rooms with fragrance
of summers long buried
in stark chill white,
as skin recalls
the imprint of fingers
and echos past passions.
January 11, 2009
I have searched for decades to see if that phrase was a quote, but never found those precise words. J. M. Barrie once wrote "God gave us memories that we might have roses in December." An oft used variant of "my" phrase found in thousands of places on the Internet is "Memories give you the power to collect roses in the winter." I've never found an attribution for that one. So presumably the anonymous person in San Mateo who scribbled those words nearly forty years ago also composed them.
There is a folk song that was sung by Girl Scouts and around campfires in the sixties and early seventies, the first verse of which is "Bring me a rose in the winter time, when they're hard to find..." I've also never found an attribution for that either.