Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sam, Chuckie and Harold: It's not easy being green

I'm trying to save a $12 hibiscus I bought at Sam's several years ago. "Sam" got tossed about during our thunderstorm this week, and is looking a bit battered and bruised. Sam will make it - this is how I know...

When I was very young, my dad, on a typical one of his accountant-type days (same breakfast, same time, same coffee cup, same ashtray for his Tareyton - he'd "rather fight than switch") discovered that a seed in his breakfast grapefruit had sprouted. Teeny green spot on one end, with a little root on the other. In his infinite wisdom, he put the seed in a pot of dirt. Fast forward 12 or so years, and we were wrangling a 5 ft tall grapefruit tree in the Pontiac Catalina to take me back to college. He wanted me to care for his tree that he had so lovingly nurtured for so long. I had it for a long time, for several years after we were married. I thought it was dying every year until I figured out it was deciduous. It moved from Iowa City to Davenport to Waterloo, where interestingly (but somewhat sadly) it returned home to die. It was time. All of God's things have a circle of life, and this tree, whom I lovingly called Chuckie, had met his Maker in that Great Grapefruit Orchard. I have no doubt dad is caring for Chuckie once again.

Now understand that for the past 8 or so years, I can count on one hand the number of times I have NOT had a red grapefruit for breakfast. It's a ritual I got into, and I never eat one without thinking of Dad. I sort of look at it as a way to honor him, as well as lower my cholesterol. That's a lot of grapefruit - like almost 3,000! Today, there it was. A sprouted seed, a faint green stem, and for some reason it escaped the edge of the newly-honed santoku knife as I halved the fruit. Wow. For a brief (shining) moment, I was that little girl again. I fully expected to look up and see Chuckie there with his coffee and yes, cigarette. I put it in a dish of water, and later today will find some rich black dirt to see if it will flourish. I pray that it will. Which brings me to Harold.

Harold was our next door neighbor growing up. He and his wife Grace loved plants, and had two beautiful old jade trees on their breezeway. In the summer, they would come outside and get taller and plumper (the trees, not Harold or Grace). The trees finally got to the point that they were too large for these frail, elderly people to care for them, so they gave them to my mom. She kept one and gave me the other.

I didn't disrupt "Harold's" routine. I set him outside every spring and brought him in at the sign of the first frost. After 10 years or so, the man Harold became very ill with his diabetes. One Saturday morning Mom awakened me with a call and said that Harold had gone into the hospital and had to have both legs amputated. This saddened me so - to think of this strong, vibrant man becoming frail and so immobile. I remember laying in bed for a while, listening to Ben babble from his crib, thoughts drifting to the usual gift in his morning diaper I was about to receive. Babbling, stinky babies take precedence over disabled old men sometimes, but Harold was in the back of my mind. I changed Ben's diaper, cleaned him up, and took him out to the kitchen for his breakfast. And then I saw it. Right next to Ben's high chair - Harold. In his same spot by the deck door, but I gasped. Every single limb on that beautiful jade tree had fallen off - limbs were scattered all over the floor. HAROLD!! I bent down and looked at the limbs. They looked healthy, fine, it's just that something, Someone, had made Harold's limbs fall to the earth. And then I thought about neighbor Harold, waking up that morning with no legs. What does this mean?? I looked around, expecting someone to explain it, I saw the explanation in the blue eyes and pounding fists of that clean little boy in the high chair, bedhead and all, waiting for his breakfast. That circle of life, again.

After breakfast, I cleaned out the pot, filled it with fresh dirt, and one by one, gently buried each limb a few inches into the dirt. For days I watched it - the leaves remained green and firm, and with a few weeks I was able to put Harold (who had now transformed from a tall tree to a full bush) to his usual spot on the deck. He flourished over the summer, and remains huge and a pain to move in and out every spring and fall, but is a testimony to TLC, inner strength, and sheer will. Every now and then a branch falls, and it's simply a start of a new plant. I've probably given away a hundred of them to friends and family. But the patriarch is still going strong. Today might be the day that we (it takes 2) move Harold to his special spot by the front porch. A spot that was landscaped especially for him when we built our home, a horribly humble version of intelligent design.

Props to Sam, Chuckie, and Harold, and say a prayer for Chuckie Jr. A poignant reminder on this beautiful Sunday morning - HE LIVES! And as Kermit well knows, it just isn't easy bein' green.
Tea today: GoodEarth Green with lemongrass