For The Love of Gram

By Monica A. Andermann

I looked around my sun porch, stunned. Each and every one of my prized houseplants stood in icy suspension like some frosty fairy tale forest. I sighed and inhaled back an odd scent, a cross between freshly cut grass and dried tea leaves. How could I have let this happen? I asked myself. How could I have been so careless as to leave my porch door swaying open in the frigid January wind over night? I reached up to touch the now brown leaves of my Swedish ivy. They spun to the ground and landed at my feet in silence.

That New Year’s Day, my husband Bill and I awoke to find that our thermostat read 48 degrees despite an incessantly churning furnace. Unfamiliar with the quirks of our new home we investigated, only to discover a frozen pipe had burst in a corner of the sun porch thanks to our own carelessness. I stood there with tears welling. The burst pipe could be repaired. But what about my plants?

One by one, Bill helped me relocate my prized possessions to the living room with the hope that the electric heater we employed there might aid in a thaw. Yet, after a few hours it was clear there were no survivors. I took a painful inventory: the Christmas cactus started from a clipping from my mom’s plant; the jade plant, a birthday gift from the ladies at work; the peace lily that had been carted from apartment to apartment and finally to our new house, purchased as a reminder to always keep peace in the home. And then the magnificent zebra plant from my grandmother’s garden. That one hurt my heart most of all.

Gram’s zebra plant initially started my love affair with greenery. I recalled first noticing that plant as teenager poking around Gram’s garden during one of my visits to her southern home. Her garden was filled with so many tropical wonders, yet this plant with the deep green velvety leaves that reached as long as my arm amazed me. I remembered running my fingers along its purplish stems, passing a palm across the leaf’s sun-warmed surface, smooth as silk: Smooth as Gram’s touch.

When Gram passed away several years earlier, my mother and aunt set out to clean her house and prepare for its sale. At that time, they gave each of the grandchildren an opportunity to request a memento. My choice was simple: Gram’s zebra plant. I can still recall the look on my mother’s face when I made my request. “A plant?” she asked. “That’s what you want?”

I nodded, “Yes.”

My mother shook her head, “It’s practically a bush. I can’t dig up the whole thing.” Yet sensing my disappointment, Mom quickly changed her answer. She promised to return home with a hearty clipping complete with a bit of root. When the cutting arrived, I researched its proper care and discovered that this was not just any common zebra plant but a more stately variety, a calathia zebrina.

I nurtured that clipping until it grew to be as big as Gram’s “bush.” Each time I walked past that plant and spotted its rich burst of green coming from the shiny brass planter I could practically feel Gram’s touch. Somehow, that plant kept her alive in my heart, kept us connected. I just couldn’t accept its loss.

At my request, my husband now hauled the large container (which by this time held only two naked stems and one with four, sad folded leaves) into a spare bedroom that received a southern exposure. I placed what remained of my beloved zebra plant in front of a window and continued to water it with care. Within a week, the residual leaves had fallen off and by the end of the month all three stems had rotted into the soil. I plucked the sad reminders from the dirt and pushed the planter into a corner where it stood shadowed in a place where my defeat would be less obvious. Every time I stepped into the spare bedroom, though, I continued to check for signs of life in the dirt where Gram’s plant had once flourished. Invariably, I found nothing but disappointment.

One day in early April I noticed the sunlight had shifted in such a way that it illuminated the corner where the empty brass container now stood. With hope renewed, I bent down to check the soil once more. Nothing. That was it, I told myself. Now was the time for some early spring cleaning. I would dump the dirt, clean the planter, and store it in the basement where the sight of it could no longer haunt me.

Then I did something for reasons I cannot fully explain. I dropped to my knees, bowed my head, and with palms pressed against the cool of the brass, started to cry. I mean, really cry. I sobbed deep, heart-wrenching, soul-cleansing tears right onto the dirt where Gram’s plant so proudly once grew. And when I opened my eyes, I noticed something sticking up from the puddle my tears had formed – a small green nub. I blinked a few times. I wiped my tears. Probably just a pebble, I thought. Gingerly, I pushed the nub with my finger. That was no pebble. That was the starting of a new plant.

Sixteen years later, Gram’s zebra plant continues to grace my home, restored to its previous magnificence. I’m always reminded of Gram each time I touch those soft, velvety leaves, and I believe that stately zebra plant still keeps us connected. And while I’m sure there is a perfectly logical horticultural reason that Gram’s plant came back to life after its season of dormancy, I prefer my own reasoning on the subject: the same love that kept Gram alive in my heart, also brought one very special calathia zebrina back into bloom.

About this writer

  • Monica A. Andermann Monica A. Andermann his both an avid gardener and a writer. More of her personal essays can be found in several Chicken Soup for the Soul and A Cup of Comfort collections with additional credits widely published both online and in a variety of print media.

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One Response to “For The Love of Gram”

  1. Monica, your story touched me. My best friend promised to send me a flower in winter after she died. I have received her gift every winter, outdoors!

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