“Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” —Winnie the Pooh

I was recently reminded of that sage observation by British author A.A. Milne’s “silly old bear” at, of all places, the Minocqua Walmart, as I spied a small glass forcing vase in the floral cooler sporting the poster child Charlie Brown tree of spring harbingers: an endearingly lopsided hyacinth bulb.

It was a no-brainer impulse purchase with a much deeper meaning than just simply bringing a colorful, hopeful splash of spring color home to the Johnson kitchen table to ride out Punxsutawney Phil’s extended bleak midwinter.

As Pooh observed, it was a small thing that immediately took up a large chunk of real estate in my heart — all for $3.33, plus tax. 

It’s been said that when someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure. And in that moment at Walmart, that tiny floral find brought back a welcome flood of treasured memories of my late nana.

The hyacinth vase was symbolic of the many small, special things that Nana reveled indulging in during my weekend stay-over visits from childhood into my college years, including an ever-evolving procession of endearingly kitschy Crestwood Bakery cupcakes and a wide-ranging slate of “adventuring” outings running the gamut from snowshoeing, sugarbush visits, County Stadium Brewer games and brewery tours at Miller and Pabst, to museum visits, opera and ballet performances, and a surprise post-symphony concert tête-à-tête with an up-and-coming cellist fresh out of Juilliard named Yo-Yo Ma. She was a pretty hip, outside-the-box nana.

Apropos to the topic at hand, the hyacinth bulb was a fragrant, colorful reminder of Nana’s great love for flowers. If the Sentry supermarket in downtown Elm Grove would have had a hyacinth bulb in a forcing vase back in the day, it would have, without a doubt, appeared on the dinette table to bring an added festive cheer to our precious time together. 

As it was, a steady stream of seasonal planters sporting colorful foil of various hues made their way to Nana’s table following her “marketing” excursions, particularly this time of the year, including pots of cheery yellow “daffs,” fragrant paperwhite narcissus, dainty blue muscari grape hyacinths, and fiery long-stemmed red tulips. 

And —  it being my personal favorite as a kid — there was the clockwork annual appearance of the ivory and delft blue plastic windmill flower planters on Nana’s table, with their “twirl-able” molded plastic Holland Flowers fan blades and a profusion of purple crocus surrounded by idyllic scenes of boats, windmills and bonnet-capped, basket-toting Dutch girls.

Living in the Chicago area in the early 1990s while my wife was in grad school, I unexpectedly ran across one of the retro old-school Holland Flowers windmills while shopping for groceries at our neighborhood Jewel, bringing it home jubilantly to brighten our cinderblock-walled on-campus apartment. While an extravagantly lavish purchase in those penny-pinching years, it was worth every penny for the fond, warm memories of Nana and her delight in life’s simpler things.

I haven’t seen one of the windmill planters in a supermarket since, although I always optimistically keep my eyes peeled this time of year, forever hopeful that it’ll be yesterday once more. It never is. Realistically, they’re now the stuff of antique shops, flea markets, garage sales, eBay and Etsy. 

Like Nana, they’ve passed into nostalgic memories of days gone by, and the small things that blossom into a wealth of favorite memories to warm a long and lustrous winter.