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Thumbs Down

by Martha Powers


My asparagus fern died today. In actual fact, I think it's been dead about a week, but I just noticed it today. I probably wouldn't have, except my neighbor stopped over for coffee and, as she passed it she gasped at the apparent death in the family.  I remembered then that about two weeks earlier the plant had turned an unseemly brown.  I had high hopes it was a seasonal change.

Whenever Lorraine comes to visit I feel burdened with guilt. She spends at least an hour inspecting my plants, and then tells me that each one has some dread disease, root rot or spider mites.  It's wasted on me. I'm one of those people who thinks potbound sounds comfy.

I like having a room full of plants but I'm horticulturally challenged.  Instead of a green thumb, I'm afflicted with the black hand of death.

As a wedding present, Bill and I received a fishtail palm. It was five feet tall with lovely, airy fronds which fluttered wispily at the merest breeze. The moment I looked at it, it began to wilt. The pot alone weighed slightly less than the refrigerator. For the first year of our marriage, Bill wore an agonized look on his face and appeared to be permanently hunched over from moving the plant from one window to the other hoping to find a nurturing light.

On our first anniversary we tossed a coin to see who would get the pleasure of tossing the nearly withered plant out our third-floor window. However, in a last ditch humanitarian move, (and fear of retaliation from the landlord who had us on probation after the wine and cheese party banister incident) we ended up giving the plant to Bill's mom who, like St. Joseph, could make lilies sprout from the end of a broom. Six months of convalescence and the fishtail palm had recovered sufficiently to return, on an outpatient basis, to our care where, as they say in the medical trade, it slowly faded. When we moved to our first house, it remained forlornly beside the garbage can, one lonely brown-spotted palm frond waving gamely in the breeze.

Friends bring me philodendron in the mistaken belief that no one can kill this plant. It starts out bushy, waxen-leaved, glowing with health and vitality. Inside of two weeks, I am left with a pot of dirt containing two immense trailers,  barren except for three leaves whose edges are ominously puckered.

One fall my mother let me watch her amaryllis plants which were in the dormant stage. I never went within two feet of the little pots, cowering in a dark corner of our basement, but it was the only year they didn't bloom.

Ever the optimist, Bill bought me the most beautiful African violet I've ever laid my evil eyes upon. There were so many flowers on the plant you could barely find the leaves. Within two weeks there wasn't a blossom on it and it never produced one in the limited time it resided with us.

In my defense, I really believe the African violet hated me. Early in our association, the plant realized I would never fawn over it, and in retaliation refused to put forth even one flower. Towards the end of its life, I think it regretted this alienation, but by then too many insults had been traded and I felt there was nothing left of the relationship to save.

Perhaps plants sense my hostile attitude and react negatively.  I’ve raised children and a husband.  I don’t want something else dependent on me for the air they breath and the water they soak up.  Why should I be solely responsible for keeping them alive and healthy? They never even try to stand on their own little roots.

For most of the world, spring is synonymous with flowers and plants.  It’s a time of growth.  A period of burgeoning life.  When the children were in grade school, spring was always heralded in with an agonized cry from the kitchen: “Mom, the bean plant I brought home from school is dead.”

Martha Powers is a former humor columnist who left behind the winters of Chicago for the sun and sand of Vero Beach, Florida.  She is the author of eleven published novels.  Martha writes fiction thrillers but finds that killing off the bad guys isn't as much fun as writing for laughs.  She can be reached at:


©2005 Martha Powers for SeniorWomenWeb
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