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I grew up in New Orleans where most folks believe in ghosts, signs, omens and the power of voodoo right along with that of the Roman Catholic archbishop. I am down with that. My father died shortly after I turned 10. I’ve often wondered if he would be proud of the woman I am. My stepfather died in the early 90s and he never failed to let me know he was proud of me.
The death that affects me most is my mother’s. For most of our lives we were at odds. Maybe it was because I was so like her. Maybe it was because I never met her dreams for me.
A relative whispered at her funeral: “I know you two didn’t get along, but she loved you and will always be with you.”
One thing I knew was, I did not stop loving her and remembering she gave me life – especially when she had no plans for children. I once asked how many children she and my father planned to have. I was their only one. My brother was the result of a later marriage.
“He wanted six. I did not want any children,” she said. It was a good thing I was driving. Focusing on the traffic helped me overcome the shock.
Among the belongings in her apartment at the assisted living center were the college degrees, the stories I wrote early in my career, a copy of a resume I once posted online, photos of me in various publications – some I had sent, some she acquired on her own.
As we cleaned out her apartment in April, there were dozens of African violets, ivy and Christmas cacti to dispose of. Fellow residents took some, my brother, aunts and cousins took some. I was reluctant.
I am a notorious killer of African violets and Christmas cacti. I have mother’s green thumb for most other things, but not this.
Every year she would get a new Christmas cactus. And every year our closets became darkrooms for her collection from previous years as she worked to force vigorous blooms.
As I left her apartment for the last time I carried a bag with one small African violet and one small Christmas cactus.
Both came to rest on the front porch.
I am happy to report my reputation as a violet killer is intact. It didn’t last a month.
That Christmas cactus is another thing.
It has endured sunburn, overwatering, underwatering and my total ignorance of cactus care.
A friend reassured it would be OK if I didn’t re-pot it and let it dry before watering again and fed it occasionally. Seems they like to be root-bound. I figured if it was like a fern in that respect I would put it next to the vigorous porch fern.
A few weeks ago I was thinning the fern and noticed the cactus looked different.
There were new tendrils. The old tendrils were longer and branching off. Each had at its end these little whiteish buds.
This week they bloomed gloriously white with the slightest hint of baby pink on the edges.
As I told a fellow cactus grower this tale she said, “See, she is with you. Those blooms are her way of telling you that.”
The little Christmas cactus is one holiday miracle I can savor for the rest of my life.