I am riding home from my mother’s place in Massachusetts. In the car is Suki, my perfect dog in her car seat, which is secured next to me, in the passenger seat. A cooler filled with leftovers is on the floor under Suki, and wedged in next to it, so it shouldn’t tip over, is an old houseplant, a variegated philodendron that’s seen better days.
It was the annual weekend celebration of my Mother’s birthday. Which also marks the end of the summer season and the closing down of her condo in the Berkshires until next May.
Last year, as we were abandoning the place for the winter, at the last minute, I threw the plant in my car, hating to think of it perishing along with the annuals that, by October, are over-blossoming beyond the tops of the planters and hanging baskets on my mother’s porch. I am not a plant person. Plants do not talk to me. In fact, my friends know me for killing plants, not intentionally; they no longer give me seedlings or bulbs or potted herbs that they all fuss over and trade among each other. But I took that plant off my mother’s porch, and home with me, back in the fall of 2011, perhaps because Marika had died that year and I couldn’t let a single other thing die. I couldn’t save my daughter but there was a plant that I could save from death. Maybe.
When I got home from my mother’s last October, I put the plant smack in the middle of the dining room table. It was only a week later that I started writing my book. The plant was there on the table in the corner of my house overlooking the pond as piles of papers and tissues and chapters started growing up around it. And it started growing around the photo of Marika that I would talk to when I wasn’t talking to Suki who, when I write, lays under the table on a blanket by my feet. During the eight months the plant was there, the cat nibbled on it, the vine grew tighter around the photo of Marika, and its leaves grew more green with their fine white lines getting more defined.
In May, I took the plant back to my mother’s house in Massachusetts when I drove her up to open the place for the new season. The spot on my table that had been occupied by the plant quickly grew over in papers and I did not miss that plant. And another summer went by in a blink. Soon I was back for another birthday and another locking up of the house.
The plant waited in its place on the porch as I spent a jolly weekend with my sister and my mother and her neighbor, Pearl, who was also our neighbor fifty years ago on Long Island. Our houses there were separated only by a small rock garden where the daughters would picnic, bury dead birds and play. My mother and Pearl have spent so many summers in the Berkshires, in their adjacent homes, that neither knows who followed the other there. Mostly now, it is Pearl who does the following as my mother takes her to restaurants, to shows, to some of their old favorite places, shuffling slowly and carefully with her, making sure the cane and the coat are not forgotten, left.
The plant looked at me this time. If a plant can have a questioning look, this one did. It had paled over the last five months on this shaded porch. It had not grown. I consider for a while. Because I am not a plant person and that spot it occupied on my table has long since grown over and who knows what kind of insects are living among the plant’s leaves and roots. I come up with a hundred reasons to leave this plant behind.
Sunday morning the car is all packed up for my trip back home to Ithaca. Suki is secured in her car seat and I say my goodbyes to my mother and to Pearl. It is my time to wonder who will or will not be back here next summer. I pick the plant up carefully and carry it to the floor of the passenger seat below Suki. So here I am, bringing an old friend home again for the winter.