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Deep Roots

by Roberta McReynolds

 

"Did you keep that Philodendron from your parents’ house?" an elderly relative inquired.

We had been discussing the estate sale and how challenging it was to dispose of a house filled with 44 years of accumulated items reflecting the interests and personality of my parents. Still dealing with the grief of losing them both, one soon after the other, I found that each item from their home took on a new magnitude. It made the chore of deciding what went into the stacks to keep, donate, or sell overwhelming.

Now I was trying to remember a particular houseplant. Yes, the one in the living room and no, I didn’t keep it. I got a start of the Holly bush and some iris rhizomes, though. What was the significance of the Philodendron? Was there some merit I had been unaware of?

"Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t keep it. Your Grandmother gave it to your father when he opened his photography studio," she explained. That was February 1949, a year and a half before my parents were even married.

My first thought was why hadn’t this well-meaning person told me that months ago, before the sale was over? It was only a plant, but it had represented something to my family and now it, too, was gone.

Years later I discovered I had underestimated Grandmother’s wisdom. While I was visiting an out-of-town aunt, our conversation took an interesting twist. She asked me to follow her into the guest room, telling me along the way, "I have something I want you to look at and see if you would like to have."

Sitting atop a chest of drawers was a Philodendron. My aunt said it was a start from a plant given to my father . . . . I finished the story for her, incredulous that I was being given something I had believed was forever lost. Grandmothers had the heart of a gardener and loved the gift she had selected so much, she wanted a piece of it. Decades later she entrusted it to one of her daughters, also a gardener. Now it was coming home.

It’s really not a rare specimen or anything unique to the average person’s eyes. There are many just like it in stores all over town. The difference is this particular plant has survived for generations in my family. It was selected to congratulate my father’s career. It was special. Now it thrives in my home, with tendrils several feet long. The greenery gracefully drapes around the room, embracing me with memories. Its vigor and growth amaze me.

When I first brought it home, being a novice gardener, I worried that I would not be able to care for it properly and it would die. What kind of lighting did it require and how much water? The responsibility of keeping the plant alive for future generations to enjoy was weighty.

One day the pot got knocked from its shelf and crashed to the floor. Potting soil and broken shards of terra cotta landed everywhere. Panicked, I scooped the plant up and replanted it quickly. Talking to it through the entire process, I apologized and pleaded for it to survive my clumsiness. It did. Apparently it needed to be transplanted anyway, needing room for its crowded roots. It now flourishes better than before my accident.

During the replanting process, I found some of the pieces of the plant had broken off. I stuck them in water until I could decide what to do with them. Experience has since taught that’s exactly what one is supposed to do to root a new Philodendron. Watching those tiny roots grow gave comfort that life continues, always.

I’m not alone in my preservation of plants with past connections to loved ones. My cousin has proudly told me how his wife saved his mother’s collection of African Violets. Nearly beyond hope, she made cuttings from the leaves and created new, healthy clones of the original plants. He also shared a photo of an delicate orchid in bloom, originally sent to his mother from mine, a testament of sisterly love.

My newly rooted Philodendron was eventually transferred to its own container and continued to grow. Inspired, I started another and gave it to my best friend for safe keeping, just in case. After all, my Grandmother had the foresight to make sure there was a spare Philodendron at a second location.

I check on my friend’s plant whenever I visit and she puts up with my observations that it needs more water. We’ve been friends for more than 25 years and we know that keeping a friendship isn’t much different from growing plants. It takes the right climate and a great deal of patience.

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