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My Mother’s Plant: the Will to Live
When my mother died in 1976, my brother and I voyaged to Harrisburg Pennsylvania to clean out her apartment. She was only 62, and, in spite of having several heart attacks for almost a decade, continued to work as Commissioner of Mental Health for the state of Pennsylvania. We donated her clothes to the state hospital, her books to the library, took turns choosing her furniture, dishes, jewelry, art, and donated the rest to Goodwill. Sitting on her dinning room table was a yucca plant about twelve inches high. The attached card wished her a speedy recovery and was signed by her staff. My brother took the table and chairs. I put the plant in the U Haul containing my half of her worldly possessions, and drove to Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The plant graced the desk of my newly established therapy office. It grew as my practice grew, perhaps thriving as much from all the positive wishes and hopes, and, yes, love (secret: therapists care about their patients) as much as from the meager sun and water.
It accompanied me as my office moved from one building to another finally filling a sun porch annex. Sometime, other plants surrounded it; a beautiful hibiscus flowered beside it for several years. A chenille plant draped over it. The Yucca grew, surviving when I was away and couldn’t water it. When I moved my practice into my home, it accompanied me, sitting on the floor next to a Ficus tree.
Each summer, I carted it to my deck where it thrived in the sun and rainwater of Michigan’s tropical summers. It grew to seven feet tall and five feet wide.
And then my life plans changed and I moved.
The plant was way too big to come with me. It wouldn’t fit in a car.
No one wanted a plant that would take up an entire wall of a living room.
So I decided to see if I could make some babies from the stems. Yucca is easy to root, the research said. My friend, Raven, and I cut off ten stems, stuck them in root powder, and then in vermiculite and soil. My mother’s plant was reduced to a bizarre lump of ten barky stumps with one stem still arching for the sun on my deck.
I prayed that at least four of the stems would root.
I moved the plants into the rain.
I moved them away from direct sun.
I packed up my house, sending some to my new home, storing most.
A month later, I checked the cuttings. Five had rooted. I could just throw the other five away, but wanted to give them a chance for life. I placed them in one pot to see what would happen.
Meanwhile, three tiny shoots and a sheath containing two miniature leaf buds poked from the scaly bark of stems of the mother plant.
A week later, the bud had opened with a cluster of leaves that were 6 inches long. I was amazed that dry crevassed bark, so dead looking, could birth new life. I was amazed it could produce such vigor. The next day, another bud blossomed leaves. Each morning, I was astonished at growth so determined, so fast, so brilliant green.
More shoots exploded toward the sun and sky, More little sprouts forced their way through the bark.
A Jack-in-the-Beanstalk plant, I decided.
I continued packing.
Two and a half months later there were seventeen substantial new stems and eight additional tiny buds in the stump of the mother plant. The cuttings that had not rooted the first month had rooted. All ten cuttings were thriving. Maybe I should open a Yucca nursery, I mused.
The day before I moved, I had an accident. A glass vase broke over my head lacerating my head, chin, cheek, and cutting an artery in my hand. Blood filled my eye. Great swaths of red dots sprayed across my floor. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I got to an urgent care center. Luckily I didn’t have a concussion. Luckily I didn’t cut nerves or tendons in my hand. The doctor tweezed out shards of glass from my cheek, my thumb, my arm, the slash in my chin. My arms were dotted with tiny splinters shining like diamonds in the snow. I had 30 stitches.
I cut off the long stem of the original plant, put the barky bulb in my car, and drove across the country.
Like the plant, I’ve been cut. Like the plant the gashes will show. I will have scars on my chin and the side of my hand. The slash on my chin is kinda cool… it looks like I’ve had a rough ride. And I have. But so have we all.
My mother’s plant, along with several of the babies in small pots, is at my latest apartment, pulsing with a chance for an invigorated life. My son has one of her sprouts, my two daughters will each take another
The 40-year plant is birthing babies. Cutting away the old allows fresh vigor and energy. It’s the resurrection that change provokes. A testament to the determination to live.
I don’t know if my mother would be amazed that her Yucca grows and spreads 40 years after she died, or would smile and say, “Of course, somehow or another we all go on.”
My mother’s plant has become a metaphor. Once again she pushes me, liberates me, and sets a standard to sprout ideas, adventures, novels, and art. Create a new life.