Sunday, May 10, 2020

Grandmother's Christmas Cactus

This is not my grandmother's Christmas cactus.

She had a big one, monstrous to my child-size eyes. It lived on a table in her sunny front porch, right near the door into the living room, and I was always a bit afraid of it. Those long green spidery arms reached down toward my face, and I remember rushing past it on my way into the house with dread.

But mostly, I remember, from time to time, my mother and grandmother stopping in front of that Christmas cactus to exclaim over its brilliant pink-red blossoms. It escaped my notice that these periods of bloom always came between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when these plants put on their annual flower show, but I do recall with perfect emotional clarity the excitement and thrill in their voices, these two maternal forces of mine, as they took in such beauty and marveled at nature's miracle. 

Looking back over the whole of my relationships with them, I can say with certainty that I've never understood exactly what made my mom or my grandmother tick. For sure, they were

interesting women,
principled women,
highly intelligent women who had minds of their own and knew how to make things happen.

But who were they as mothers? What kind of mothers did they want to be? What, if anything, were they trying to teach me about becoming a mother myself?

I really don't know at all.

But then I reflect on the emotional power of those moments in front of an enormous blooming Christmas cactus, listening to my mother and my grandmother marvel at its brilliant glory, and I decide maybe I do understand them after all.

This is not my grandmother's Christmas cactus.

But it is an offspring of her original plant. I've had it for decades. 

And even though it bloomed heartily in my living room last December, it has surprised me with another full and equally dazzling display for Mother's Day.

I stand in front of it and marvel at its beauty. 

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My latest thoughts on mothers and mothering:

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