I began with only one and given my propensity to kill houseplants, I never expected that one to last long. But it did. Then it gained a mate. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
My mother had a green thumb. She loved plants and she surrounded herself with them. Pots and planters filled her home, upstairs and down, inside and out. She knew how to take cuttings and turn them into new plants. We might be walking somewhere and Ma would spot an interesting plant. In an instant, her hand would dart out like a cobra, pinch off a tiny piece of the plant, and disappear back into her coat pocket. In a matter of weeks, the same type of plant would be growing in her collection. My sisters were afraid she would get in trouble for this, but Ma would just look at them and smile.
At some point, my mother’s horticultural interests expanded to include cactus plants and before long, all manner of cacti began to appear—not from pinching off samples, I’m sure. By the time my parents had reached their golden years, every windowsill in their basement was lined with mismatched pots brimming with these needly things. Some of the more interesting cacti joined her other plants in the kitchen, dining room, living room, and porches.
A few years before my mother passed away, which was in 2006, she gave me one of her Christmas Cactus plants, assuring me that these things were not that easy to kill. What can I tell you, this woman knew her son. Turns out she was right. The darned thing seldom threw blooms—sometimes going for months or even years—but when it did, its red flowers were beautiful to see.
Over the years, “Ma’s cactus” continued to grow and thrive, but after my mother died, it would go for very long periods of time without blooming. That pattern abruptly changed, however, when my father died in February of 2011. Within days of his passing, my mother’s cactus erupted, throwing more beautiful red blooms than it had ever done for me in the years prior. Having no better explanation for this phenomenon, I took the shower of blooms as a message from my mother, sent to assure me that Pop was with her once again.
Oh, you think that’s good? Wait; there’s more.
When the time came for my sisters and I to sell our parents’ home, decades worth of physical belongings had to be sold, donated, disposed of, or taken home. One of the things I took home was another Christmas Cactus. This specimen wasn’t quite the same as the one I already had. It seemed more rugged somehow and the flat, spiney segments were shaped just a little bit different from those of my other plant.
I wanted to keep the two cacti side by side on top of a wooden pantry in my kitchen, where they would not easily be reached by Jazzy, the family cat. But I didn’t much care for the mismatched flower pots, so I went out and bought a pair of matching ceramic pots, large enough for each plant to grow into. Once transplanted, the two quickly adapted and within a few weeks, began to flourish.
That’s when funny thing happened. Ma’s cactus, threw a few of her red blooms—but only on the side nearest the new arrival. Hmmm, interesting.
A couple of days later, the other cactus began to throw beautiful, yet different, white blooms. Both plants then continued to bloom, each in its own color, until finally reverting back to their usual, quiet selves.
This happened several more times in the years that followed, most often around Christmas or Easter. In time the two Christmas cacti came to represent my parents, at least in spirit. The “Ma” plant has always had more going on, growing in different directions and always throwing more blooms, and yet she is the softer of the two plants. Her spiny segments have always been more delecate and they are quicker to droop if neglected. By comparison, the “Pop” plant is sturdier and grows its woody parts just as much as its flat segments. Like my father in life, this plant holds a grudge. If neglected, this one will let sections die off rather than come back when watered again. He also doesn’t bloom as often, but his soft, white blooms are more delicate and short -lived than her prolific red ones.
And so it goes. Just this past week, with Christmas approaching, Ma threw a handful of red blooms, most of them in the direction of the strong, silent plant beside her. Pop, on the other hand, hadn’t bloomed once in over a year—until a day or two ago, then a couple of tiny white buds appears on the tips of two appendages closest to the beautiful plant to his right.
I observe the banter between these two plants and remember many happy times and the colorful chatter that often took place in our household, especially during the holidays.