Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Awful Responsibility

When the kids moved to an apartment in Louisville, they brought over their prized Hibiscus, which is five feet tall and nine feet around. It was no problem in the summer, as it sat outside soaking up the benefits of sun and natural rainfall. I watered it with the hose a few times during dry spells and other than that, I more or less ignored it.

Then there was a frost warning and I figured I'd better get the indoor plants back inside the house. We already have a monster Schefflera which has sentimental value for Mom because Becky Waggoner got it for her when my Grandma died many years ago. It was pretty as a youngster and even into middle age, but it is now a senior citizen Schefflera and has, I'm sorry to say, become ugly and angry with age. It now weighs approximately the same as a Volkswagen but is more awkward to carry. It despises being the house and fights me every step of the way, even though I'm risking slipped disks to save its life.

From almost the minute it comes through the door, it starts to shed its leaves. In fact, shed is not precisely the right term. It actually seems to fling its leaves in all directions out of temper at being confined to the too-small space between the piano, the dining room table and the desk. Schefflera leaves cover the carpet surrounding the pot, as well as the piano keys and the dining room chairs and I've even found a leaf in my coffee cup, something that seems nearly impossible considering where the Schefflera is in relation to the location of my cup - but, obviously, a pissed-off plant is capable of more deviousness that I had previously given it credit for. (I've heard that Schefflera leaves are poisonous but I don't know if it's true).

Every winter is a race between the end of the season and the demise of the Schefflera. By February, a grossly twisted nest of bare branches rise from the pot, desperately seeking fresh air and sunlight. It could be used on the set of a documentary illustrating what the world would look like after a nuclear holocaust. It could star in a Stephen King novel. Trust me, it does nothing to enhance the ambiance of my dining room, not that ambiance is necessarily one of my strong points anyway, but what little I manage is cancelled out by the Schefflera.

Every year, Mom hopes for it to live while I secretly wish for it to die so I never have to lug the nasty thing back and forth again.

Our other enormous plant is the Rubber Tree. I have to give the Rubber Tree credit. It is the most patient of plants. You can put it pretty much anywhere and if it doesn't thrive, it will at least hold its own. Now and then, one large leaf will turn brown and float to the floor but mostly, it simply endures. It is like the good-natured little kid who uncomplainingly reconciles himself to the backseat of the car because his demanding older sister, the Schefflera, always insists in the place of honor in the front. It isn't fair, but there you have it. None of us want to confront the "throwing herself on the floor until she turns blue" tantrum of the Schefflera if she has to spend the winter in the dim spot beside the fire place. If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, then the Rubber Tree will prevail in another time and place.

So that brings us to the newest addition to the family - the Hibiscus. We finally decided the only spot we had for the Hibiscus was in the middle room at the top of the stairs. This room is narrow and the Hibiscus is fat so that it sticks out far into the available floor space. When you go upstairs, instead of simply turning when you reach the top as you used to be able to do, you now have to keep walking straight until you almost hit the wall, then make a sharp right turn, bumping your shin on the bookcase, before making another 45 degree turn to the left to avoid cramming your toe into the rocking chair. Only then have you circumnavigated the Hibiscus' space so you can go on about your business to enter either of the bedrooms.

You may remember when I wrote about the truck, that once something has belonged to John, if he then gives it to you, it comes with strings attached. He never wholly gives up his ownership rights. And it is so with the Hibiscus. It was his and Lisa's Hibiscus. I never wanted it but now he has taken the position that he was being generous to pass this treasure on to me. He checks on it when he comes to the house to make sure that I conform to the rigid requirements necessary for the Hibiscus to prosper.

One day, he came downstairs in a snit. Had I not noticed all the yellow leaves on the Hibiscus? Did I just plan on ignoring it, letting his and Lisa's prized, exotic plant die? How could I be so uncaring, so inconsiderate, so, so, cruel!

"Huh," said I, taken aback at the strength of his passion for this plant, (he who, so far as I know, never exhibited the slightest concern for any plant ever before). Truthfully, I had watered it a couple times but mostly, when I go upstairs, it is dark. The health of the Hibiscus simply didn't rank as high on my priority list as it clearly did on his.

Then he told me that he and Lisa had some problems with the Hibiscus themselves and they had experimented with various aspects of sun and water and discovered that optimum conditions to keep it in peak shape included precisely 32 ounces of water per day!

I stared at him in disbelief. I cannot even conceive of a plant whose demands must be met on a daily basis. I'm lucky if I remember to go to Reynolds Oil when I still have a 16th of a gallon of gas left in the car. I'm lucky if I remember to take my blood pressure pills at least every other day. I'm lucky if I pay my bills on time and make it to my dental appointments when they're scheduled. And now I'm expected to be responsible the daily care of a Hibiscus?

Mom, ever the peacemaker, promised John that each and every day, she would carry a 32-ounce pitcher of water up to the Hibiscus. Of course, that laid a guilt trip on me because Mom doesn't bound upstairs as easily as she used to so then I had to backtrack and say that I would do it after all.

So now, here I am, burdened by the weighty responsibilities of the Schefflera and the Hibiscus and even the Rubber Tree, made paranoid by yellow leaves and falling leaves, religiously measuring out water in a measuring cup, praying for an early Spring.