Monday, August 14, 2006

Of Houseplants and Friendship

My Grandma Ruby raised African Violets. They were her favorite plant in the world...her kitchen window sill was always filled with little plastic margarine tubs sprouting little purple flowers and soft fuzzy leaves. She said that they were the sturdiest little plants and so easy to grow. I think she also liked the fact that in the middle of the sand hills of Nebraska, anything tagged with the title "African" sounded exotic and like me she loved the way the leaves tickled against her skin as she lifted them up to water them. By the time my memories all begin of my grandmother the only house plants she really kept were African Violets, sans one huge old philodendron in the living room. I know that it wasn't always the case, as my mother sometimes told me about the houseful of beautiful plants my grandmother kept when she was a young woman and how adept she had been at making them blossom and grow. I think my mother thought my grandmother had grown too tired and old to keep up after all of those plants, and to some degree, she might have been right. But I also think that maybe my grandmother just really figured out that you only have so much time and energy in life, and you have to spend it on that what makes you happy. African Violets made my grandmother happy.

Me, I certainly didn't inherit Ruby's bubbly, silly personality, her skill for making piecrusts, or her green thumb. I've gone for years at a time without having a single plant in my house because I really didn't think I could make them live. I went through a short phase though, back in Denver where I had a houseful of plants that I had gifted to me by my employer...the office was always changing out plants...had a plant service, and when they no longer fit the decor, they got sent home with the employees or sent to the trash. You know I couldn't let them just wither and die in a dumpster because they'd gone out of social justice gene wouldn't allow that. So for a time, I became a shelter for homeless plants. I had all kinds of amazing and interesting plants. I discussed their care in depth with the plant guy at the office and I spent a great deal of energy taking care of them every day. I started shopping for new pots for them and they gave me a special joy. At one point I even ended up bringing home a small potted lemon tree, which thrived under my carefully noted instructions from the plant guy. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, I DID inherit a little bit of a green thumb! Huh! But you know the only thing that you can count on in life is change. Scott and I split up. When I moved, the lemon tree didn't make it. The stress of being strapped to my little pick up truck and hauled through the streets of Denver was just too hard on it. And I got more involved in theatre again, and I wasn't home as much, and I started to neglect them...not intentionally, but I'd forgot a watering, or there suddenly wasn't enough money for special fertilizers. I was lonely and got a cat that liked to chew on them.

By the time I met Darius, they were all pretty much gone.

In the last few years I've discovered succulents. Succulents, if you don't know tend to be beautiful plants that don't require a whole lot of care. They certainly like a little attention now and then...but if you miss watering them for even a whole month they don't shrivel up and die, they just kind of go into hibernation. In fact, I've found that sometimes you can pay just a little too much attention to them. They don't die, but they get cranky. Between them and my bamboo that grows in rocks with water, I've finally found my houseplant niche.

It has been a thought of mine over the years that relationships are living things that have to be nurtured and cared for. It's only recently that I've begun to look at them with the houseplant in mind, but the more I consider it, the more I find it a worth analogy. Most of my friendships, like my plants, are succulents. They don't require a whole lot other than a little bit of water now and then and some appreciation from time to time. They don't thrive on a schedule or on too much fertilizer. Sometimes they get root bound and you have to move them into a bigger container, but that's an occasional maintenance thing. They are relaxed and unencumbered with watering schedules and demanding fertilizer routines, in fact, they'd probably balk at it. But they are ever present and shine beautifully in my life and their mere presence gives me joy.

Some of my relationships are more like the bamboo...they grown in the damnedest of places and require lots and lots of water, but little else. They have a sort of Zen presence that soothes me, and it is no problem to refill the water once a week because it has become a process that fills me up as much as it is a tending of the relationship, and that gives me great joy.

I have a philodendron or two, that are like my grandmother's...old and huge and you know, you are never quite sure what you did right with it, but it survived the years and it's big and beautiful and you are very proud of it.

And of course some relationships are like great old trees out in the yard. You don't have much to do with them other than appreciate them and make sure the bugs don't get them. They are the relationships that give you shade and a safe place to rest. They are shelter and a haven.

Now like with my plants, I've gone through my green thumb phase of life with friendships too. I've tended hothouse flowers, and shrinking violets. I've tended lovely willowy ferns and clinging vines both of which grow so fast it's hard to keep up with it. I've planted trees that didn't make it to adulthood.

Both with friendships and gardening I think I've begun to understand what I'm capable of and what I am not and what makes me happy. I appreciate my friends who can raise orchids, and while I admire them, I can't. I'm a succulent kind of girl, and I'm thinking maybe a bit of an African Violet lover myself...but I'm not sure I can raise them. I'll have to see if I can channel some of my Grandma Ruby and find out.

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