Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Alice the Amaryllis

This is Alice, the Amaryllis, blooming upstairs in my bedroom this week and named after my cousin, Alice (Krutsinger) Sims --- but only because "Alice" and "Amaryllis" seem to go together. Actually, until yesterday she didn't have a name.

I took custody of Alice and her nine bulbous offspring last fall from the neighbor whose project they are. He planned to be away for a time and didn't have the energy or inclination to pot the bulbs and water them through the winter. The offspring range in age from adolescent to toddler and none are going to bloom this year.

I has been his practice to plant Alice outside in the spring, which encourages reproduction --- so that's why the family developed. It's not clear to me what their future is. But so far, I've been doing my duty to them.

Alice also reminds me of my Grandmother Miller's legendary Amaryllis, that flourished under her careful cultivation for years during the 1930s and 1940s, dutifully blooming each year, according to my mother. I never actually saw that Amaryllis, or my grandmother for that matter, since both were dead before I was born. But I have seen snapshots.

I'm not sure where her bulb came from, but that was before the time of storebought houseplants. What one had generally had arrived in the form of slips or bulbs from friends, neighbors or relations and those plants were expected to go on for years. Most were expected to bloom.

Our current practices of changing houseplants to fit the decor, investing in morphed leafy shade-tolerant clumps of leaves for indoors because they can survive indifferent care and of investing in dozens of geraniums and other "outdoor" plants at a garden center in the spring and then allowing them to freeze in the fall would have been considered wildly improvident.

My friend who does the flowers for Sacred Heart and I --- flower guy at St. Andrew's --- were visiting Monday about our maltreatment of the seasonal Poinsettias --- most of which by now have been consigned to garbage bags. Grandmother would have considered this criminal.

Her plants lived on a big piece of walnut furniture that she had designed --- three broad steps --- that always sat in front of the big south window in the living room. My grandfather continued to cultivate her plants until he was no longer able some 20 years after her death.

The family Christmas cactus, which had belonged to his mother, lived in an enamel cooking pot that had rusted out resting on a cracked plate on a recycled piano stool in the east window of the downstairs bedroom --- nothing ever was wasted. It always bloomed and eventually went to my great-aunt, Easter (Miller) Brenaman (yes, she was born on Easter Sunday).

In homage to Alice and her offspring, I've been taking better care of my houseplants this winter. Haven't inadvertently killed one since November.

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