Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Remembrance Day

My father died six years ago in January, on the first day of spring classes. It was actually on January 7th, which is not the first day of classes every year, but I loved my father and I have always loved the first day of classes, and they are now forever linked in my heart.

I was thinking of him today, in the main because it was the first day of spring classes, but also because I moved a corn plant (Dracena fragrans) that someone gave us at his funeral, from our bedroom downstairs to my study upstairs. There is a north window where it will finally get all the bright, indirect light it has deserved for lo, these many years.

It is a tough plant, and has defied all my attempts to neglect it. When we received it, it was just a little two foot mite, but now it is is five feet tall if it is an inch, and putting out new leaves like who laid the chunk.

I have no idea where the phrase "like who laid the chunk" comes from or what it actually means, but it was a favorite of my dad's, and when he used it, his eyebrows were always raised and he meant "more than you could ever imagine, Horatio." Or something like that.

The family got a lot of live plants for his funeral, most of which were kalanchoes, but one of which was this silly corn plant. I was the one chosen to take home all the live plants, because, supposedly, I am a gardener (though not a houseplant person, which is actually a different species altogether), and it was assumed that I would know what to do with them. (Snort! I didn't even know what these plants were. I had to look them  up--not that it did me any good.) Well, as you might expect, the kalanchoes all gave up the ghost in short order, because, as it turns out, houseplants require, you know, watering and shit. That is to say, they require attention from a houseplant-person (see above, in re, not necessarily a gardener).

But not, apparently, corn plants. They just trundle along in their dark corners of inadequate light, sans water, sans fertilizer, sans anything at all, waiting patiently for their annual spate of pathetic-houseplant-person attention. All it ever seemed to ask from me was no direct light and an occasional "last dregs from the glass of water," and in those things I was happy to oblige. When I thought of it.

Note to people who plan to give live plants to bereaved families: Corn plants. Not kalanchoes. Kalanchoes are lovely, but they require, you know, watering and shit.

Anyway, today on this anniversary of sorts, I moved the corn plant upstairs, re-did the stakes that prop up its leggy stems, gave it an actual watering--and get this, fertilizer!--and danged if it doesn't look happy to me.

I miss you, Dad. Wish you were here so I could tell you about the corn plant and how it is being  a tough little nut, resistant to all neglect, like who laid the chunk.


  1. Thanks for a great post, Susan -- our parents are always with us.

    And geez, I totally know the difference between being a gardener and a good houseplant person (I'm NOT!)

  2. We got a corn plant as a wedding gift ad it survived despite total neglect for about 15 years, when we discovered a new kitten had been using its big pot as a litter box for some time and did it in. It might actually have rallied in a new pot with fresh soil, but instead I put it out of its misery. I am not a houseplant person, either, although I seem to be able to keep orchids alive and they often even re-bloom despite me. My saddest houseplant experience was my Grandma’s Christmas cactus. it was over 60 years old and had been my great-grandmother’s. When my paternal grandma was 90 and failing, she gave it to my maternal grandma, and when she was 92 and failing she gave it to me, the token gardener of the family. The Christmas after she died it bloomed so magnificently, smothered in blossoms for months - it felt like a message from my two grandmothers. But when we moved to the farm it was set on top of a stack of boxes and we found it flipped over headfirst and broken into a hundred cactus segments. I did send some slips to my sisters and brother and they may be still growing, but mine never took off. It was very sad, but I have to admit, I feel sort of relieved to not have the responsibility for that huge heirloom cactus anymore.

  3. What a lovely way to remember someone so dear.

    An aside about Kalanchoes: They are one of those tropicals that like when you pinch out a little rosette of leaves -- several, in fact -- and root new plants that are not leggy. Make a new start; there is something hopeful in that notion.

  4. It's always funny how we attach our memory of people and events to things. I have hung on to plants long past the time they should have become compost, just because of who gave them to me.

  5. great post What a lovely way to remember someone