Southern Scribe
    our culture of storytelling

 

Porch Tale    

 

 

The Christmas Cactus

 by Dorothy K. Fletcher

 
 
 

In that January when my mother in-law gave it to me, it was still in its white, plastic pot with $1.39 written in grease pencil on the side.  She had rescued the three, green and scraggly-looking shoots emanating from a little, root ball from the grocery store, she said.  Truly, the little cactus was most unspectacular.  I put it in my kitchen window, mostly to get it out of my way, and every few days when it began to pucker up, I'd give it a little drink of water. 

This inauspicious relationship between my Christmas cactus and me continued for quite sometime--until March or May--when it became obvious that the little creature was root-bound.  I moved it to a larger, clay pot that was still small enough to sit on the sill of my kitchen window.  This new arrangement seemed to agree with the little plant.  It developed new limb sections--first red, then light green--at the tips of its branches, and it got bigger and stronger to where it almost looked good.  I gave it a shot of Peter's Special every once in a while, and we co-existed very nicely. 

July, August and September passed as I went about my summer kitchen business.  The little cactus went about his growing while I placed the ripening tomatoes next to him and allowed the peaches to unharden there also.  October came and went as did the strawberry jam I'd put up.  Then came Thanksgiving with its sumptuous turkey and pies and laid-back days off.  It wasn't until early December that I first noticed a pink formation at the end of each shoot that got larger as the time sped toward Christmas.

Suddenly, one December morning, I entered my kitchen to see three, spectacular, hot- pink blossoms stretching themselves toward me as if to give me a hug.  Great, long, delicate, pink pedals curled in my direction and I was awed. 

I had seen cacti blossoms before, usually on the sly since I kept most cacti outside, and their flowers usually folded up before I could get out there to notice; but this Christmas cactus opened up to me in a way that was almost human, and I fell in love with him at that very moment. 

Ten years have passed since that December and the three shoots have multiplied
twenty or thirty-fold.  The first clay pot was replaced by gradually larger pots, until
the cactus could no linger sit on my window sill.  Now, he sits in a giant pot under my
magnolia tree in the backyard where I can see him as I work in the kitchen.  Each
December, just a few days before Christmas, every branch of my cactus holds a
glorious explosion of pink.  I then move him indoors to a place of honor in the living
room--near the Christmas tree.  Here guests and relatives "ooh and ah" about this
incredible beast of a plant.  He has become a part of my family's Christmas celebration.   

"When are you going to bring The Cactus in?" my daughter always asks.   

"May I carry The Cactus in for you, Dear?" my husband always offers. 

"Hey, Mom, where are you going to put The Cactus this year?" my son always wonders.         

For me The Cactus, like the season, has come to symbolize hope.  How in the face of incredible indifference, this little, unseemly plant transformed itself into the life-affirming embodiment of glory, and I, for one, am most joyful that this Christmas cactus came into my life.


Dorothy K. Fletcher (dotief@attbi.com) is a poet, a freelance writer, and a devoted language arts teacher at Wolfson Senior High School in Jacksonville, Florida.  Many of her articles have appeared in The Florida Times Union, and her poetry has appeared in over 70 literary magazines and anthologies.  Her first novel The Cruelest Months ( ISBN 1-4010-6124-9) was released in October, 2002, by Xlibris Press, and it tells of the experiences of a white first-year teacher trying to survive in a predominately black, inner-city school.  The book draws heavily from Fletcher’s 30 years of real-life teaching experience in the Duval County School System, and it often shows that gunshots, fistfights and poetry are often all-in-a-day’s-work for today’s public school teacher.  

Visit her web site at www.dorothykfletcher.com.

 

 

© 2003, Dorothy K. Fletcher, All Rights Reserved