A few weeks ago I looked at the sad little Christmas Cactus in my living room and cried. For something so easy to care for it was in pretty rough shape, as I have been neglecting it and it looked like it didn’t have much fight left in it. My husband Tim noticed I was upset and told me to give the little plant another chance and not to give up on it.As I picked off the many yellowing and browning segments of the gnarled cactus I told him why the plant meant so much to me and why its imminent demise was moving me to tears. The plant belonged to my grandmother Rebecca, who passed away last spring on Good Friday, and was given to her as a Christmas gift from my grandfather more than 40 years ago. That particular year was a financially tough one and the plant was the only gift he could afford to get her. You might think it was a horrible gift, but to my grandmother and her green thumb, it was a prize.
My grandmother should truly have had her own empire of do-it-yourself gardening books and a TV show. What qualifies as hipster gardening life-hacks on trendy blogs now-a-days was old hat for her. She could take leftover seeds and discarded kitchen scraps and turn them into a full-fledged and thriving garden by the following season. There were always pieces of plants in various stages of growth in pots and cups all over her kitchen and porch. My grandparents even were honored as having the best yard in East Moriches a couple of years in a row and a sign saying so occupied the corner of the front yard.
But, the true jewel of the house was her Christmas Cactus. The cactus was the size of a large turkey and lived in a sainted and guarded spot in her front bay window. It produced an endless stream of large succulent hot pink blooms nestled amongst a sea of bright green segmented leaves year after year that seemed to never wilt or drop. As a little kid I even thought it was a plastic plant because it always looked so perfect. We were also scolded any time we got too close to the plant as we might disturb its delicate front window ecosystem.
When it outgrew its pot, my grandmother would divide a section off the main cactus and gift it to family and friends for their own homes. In total, the mother plant had more than a dozen children that lived in various houses across the tri-state area. As we got older, my brother, sister and I each received our own piece of the beast and they were given to us with pride by our grandmother with specific care instructions. We would have to report back to her on how our little cacti were faring from time to time and would call her for advice when it wasn’t looking so hot. At the time, my brother’s was thriving and my sister’s was in good shape. My cactus was on its last legs.
As she got older and the grip of Alzheimer’s took its toll on her mind and body, she could no longer care for her cactus, and, although still alive, it lost its previous luster. My mother and father moved in with my grandparents to care for her in her final years and my mother lovingly took over as the cactus’ caretaker.
So when I saw my cactus looking so desperate and sick the other day I wanted to call my grandmother for advice, and it made me cry, because I knew I couldn’t anymore. I felt that by letting the little plant fail I was letting her memory down.
In desperation and filled with emotion I called my mother and asked her what to do. She told me to move its location and give it a little water and see what happens. She told me that contrary to what I remember from my childhood there were times when my grandmother wanted to give up on her cactus but nursed it back from the brink and made it whole again. I dried my eyes and set to fixing my plant.
To my surprise it perked right back up, is rapidly growing new leaves, and for the first time, seems like it is going to bloom. I called my mother and grandfather to share the good news with them and she let me know that my grandmother’s original well-loved Christmas Cactus was in full glorious bloom in the front window of their house in South Carolina and was pleased to hear that my plant was not giving up. My grandfather, who is now 94, told me that it must be my grandmother’s way of letting us know that she is still with us during the holidays and she is still with us when things seem at their worst.
This morning my little cactus bloomed its first tiny hot pink flower and it made me smile.
Vietnam veteran and author Phil Keith will be at the Rogers Memorial Library on Wednesday, January 8, at noon, to discuss his book, Fire Base Illingworth.
Anil Kumar, FCA, ACMA, will offer “Money Talks: A Series to Help Young Consumers Make Informed Financial Decisions,” at the Library on Wednesday, January 8 and February 5 at 5:30 p.m. The first session will cover the pluses and pitfalls of credits cards, and the second will cover budgets.
There are spaces available in the library’s Tuesday afternoon yoga class which begins on January 7 at 5:15 p.m. There is a $40 fee for the series.
Certified tai chi instructor Jim Nelan will offer a series of gentle tai chi classes from Thursday, January 9 to February 27 at 10:15 a.m. There is a $40 fee for the series.
Andrew Cohen, D.C., will offer a talk about chiropractic on Friday, January 10, at 10:15 a.m.
Vocalist Rhonda Denet and the Silver Fox Trio will offer a winter evening concert at the library on Friday, January 10, at 7 p.m. She will perform a collection of jazz standards and soul classics.
Cross Island, featuring cellist Suzanne Mueller and pianist Elinor Abrams Zayas, with guest violist/violinist Yeou-Cheng Ma, will perform at the library on Sunday, January 12, at 3 p.m. They will perform duets and trios by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Debussy, Gershwin, and others.
To register for any program, contact (631) 283-0774, ext. 523, or visit www.myrml.org.