Thursday, August 21, 2008

Oh, God, I killed John and Lisa's big flower. It is a Hibiscus and I inherited it when they embarked upon the temporary thing they are doing now, moving from place to place every three months or so. They've had to learn to travel light and that certainly didn't include traveling with a Hibiscus, which is 4 feet tall and 3 feet in circumference, in the backseat of their car.

"What is that? I asked in dismay when I first saw it, spreading its elegant branches, on my front porch.

"It's a Hibiscus. It was a wedding present. I has sentimental value so you'll need to give it tender, loving care."

"Tender, loving care." I repeated.

"Yes," said John firmly.

He gave me instructions for the proper maintenance of a Hibiscus. Either I was to give it two quarts of water every third day or maybe it was three quarts of water every two days. I never could remember but I didn't have to because Mom took over the care and feeding of the Hibiscus. (All I ever did was lug it in and lug it back out, up and down the stairs, at the beginning of each new season.) Mom was religious in her attendance upon the plant as she is with all living things.

The first summer we had it, it bloomed with great showy coral blossoms.

John and Lisa beamed with approval upon its thriving whenever they came home to visit.

And then my Aunt Molly died and Mom went to Illinois to spend a few weeks with her last remaining sister - and caring for the Hibiscus became my job.

My life is a lot more chaotic when Mom isn't here. I have to remember to keep Caesar's water bowl full and to feed him regularly and to give him the little before-bed snack she's gotten him used to getting. I have to wash the dishes. I have to drop whatever else I'm doing and run to the store because I didn't notice that I was almost out of coffee...or milk...or bread....or.... I have to pay attention to the laundry basket and do a couple of loads before dirty clothes threaten to bury the utility room floor, leaving me with nothing to wear to work. When she's gone, there's no one to remind me about trash day or to take my pills or get the coffee pot ready at night so that all I have to do in the morning when I get up is turn it on.

So I think it's understandable, don't you, that in the midst of all this the Hibiscus completely slipped my mind? Even though I passed it at least twice a day, most of those times it was dark and I couldn't be expected to see in the dark that it had had begun to shed leaves at an alarming rate.

Then Mom called and in the course of our conversation, she asked me if I was being sure to water the Hibiscus faithfully.

"Oh, yes," I said.
"Oh, hell," I thought.

As soon as we hung up, I ran upstairs to be confronted with a pathetic sight - a mass of twisted brown limbs with a (very) few green leaves clinging to them, a mound of leaves that used to be green littering the floor.

I immediately ran to the kitchen for a large pitcher of water, hoping the plant's condition was only critical and not terminal.

Mom eventually got home to act as a Hibiscus nurse. No plant could have got more intensive rehabilitative treatment. She watered it. She tenderly patted its branches. She hovered over it, giving it on-going encouragement, trying to re-instill the will to live.

It gave up one branch at a time. I think it did it this way to torture me. I kept hoping it would survive until finally one day, only a single lonely leaf green remained. By the next day, it too had fallen sadly to the floor. The Hibiscus was dead. I was judged by my family as not only an uncaring plant tender but an inconsiderate and selfish mother as well.


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