Our Living Family Heirloom

 

 

Spring has its delights.

The pussy willows beckon to be petted, fiddleheads curl me batty, spring-peepers drive Julian nuts

and songbirds serenade us all day long.

Spring can seem so incredible that it can be a wonder how we survived the winter.

Spring is also that time of the year for mother’s day, father’s day, reunions, weddings, births, birthdays, graduations and gatherings: an exhilarating season!

Yet, what I love most about spring, is watching my family heirloom start to blossom.

It lives in our bathroom: a warm, moist environment, perfect for her tropical roots. She gets plenty of eastern morning sunlight, and spends all winter tenaciously growing long tentacles, that once having reached the ceiling, then begin crawling across it.

Spring is all about nurturing the next generations and revering the past generations.

I am usually not one to dwell too dearly on things like dresses, blankets, photos, old plates, jewelery, watches and paintings, yet I do absolutely cherish these objects from my family’s past. I love imagining the people who came before me using and living with these objects and then deciding with deep gravity to pass them on to the next generation.

An heirloom, a thing that shackles a family history together, is a chain of love and care.

The most important living family heirloom, which I might cherish even more than this remarkable plant that lives in our bathroom, would be my chain of genetic code.

Your DNA can be a strange concept of an heirloom to grasp, unless you simply hold your own hand.

My family genetic code is full of wonderous and frightening things:

strange abilities in academics, the arts and athletics; perseverance and dedication in almost everything we attempt; outstanding levels of compassion and empathy; yet also with startling amounts of sadness and despair that have terminally gripped too many of us by the throat; and then there are those mysterious, incurable  diseases that have left a few of us with joint, skin, belly and neurological problems…

Our 100 yr-old “night-blooming Cereus” plant is our living family heirloom.

Our night-blooming Cereus has spanned up to 5 generations in our family. My great-great-grandma acquired it on her travels and handed down a cutting of it to her daughter. (Take a single fat, juicy leaf from a Cereus, stick it in some soil and soon you have your clone.) She then passed a cutting from her plant down to my Grandma. Grandma’s grew large and strong, also. She passed down a cutting from hers to my parents.

I received my cutting from my parents’ plant in my early twenties as a celebration of living semi-independently.

Receiving my piece of the family heirloom was a very precious milestone.

I stuck that leaf in the soil, added water, watched and waited. It has grown into the strongest looking Cereus plant I have seen so far: luscious and green, fat and juicy (as compared to my sister’s cutting, my parents’ and my grandma’s). I think it does so well because I have pruned it frequently or more likely, I have just been very, very lucky.

We often get 7-9 blossoms a year, which is quite a privilege when raising this tropical plant (even though it is always indoors) through the bitterly cold winters of Nova Scotia.

Growing up with my parents’ tentacled plant was fascinating. We got to stay up late on the nights it bloomed, celebrating, watching and smelling it unfold. But our old farm-house was chilly and well shaded by giant trees. Their plant only bloomed about 1-3  times a year, if we were lucky. Its leaves have always been a little narrow and pale.

So here it is: a little piece of my ancestry.

This was taken yesterday, the morning before the first blossom of 2014.

Then came another gorgeous, spring sunset, but my attention was elsewhere:

for as night falls, the Cereus opens.

It remains open all night, emitting an intense perfume that fills the house.

For a night-bloomer, it has an unusally pleasant odor: fruity and fresh, flowery and kind.

It creeps open into the early morning, hitting its maximum size just after midnight.

Everyone smiles and seems excited. My step-daughter swoons, the dogs are cheerful and relaxed. Julian then sleeps so deeply and peacefully, it is as if all is simply perfect in our world.

It makes me feel absolutely elated: full of tinglings of love, gratitude, exuberation and generous satisfaction.

The aroma could very easily be mildly intoxicating. Some say extracts from the plant and its fruit can cause mild hallucinations (we have yet to see ours make any fruit), and were once also used to treat heart conditions.

A relative of the dragon fruit, the Cereus, a type of cactus, also known as the “Queen of the Night”, is exotic and full of mystery.


By sunrise, it closes.

It is done, spent, exhausted and limp.

I imagine the whole plant is resting very deeply today, after such an energetic night.

The night the Cereus blossoms is always a monumental event:

it is a night to remember all who came before us and all who may come after us.


May we all leave a legacy of compassion and empathy:

one that smells sweet and clean,

that is beautiful to behold,

and most importantly,

 strong and enduring. 

And there are more to come this year!

Already, another bud is beginning to grow!

 

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