And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

A long, long time ago, my mother was given a date palm tree on the day I was born. At the time, the plant and I were very small. The plant fit neatly into a pot that could stand on any table, though the little tag that came with it promised that it would grow tall. I was a preemie, born on July 29th when I was due on my mother’s birthday of September 4th, but it was promised I would grow too. My mother somehow linked the two of us, plant and baby, together, and she told me as we both got older, she felt that if she could keep the plant healthy and growing, I would be healthy and growing too.

My mother was huge on plants. She didn’t have a green thumb, she had a green body and a green brain that went with it. Our house was a jungle, with plants and plant stands in every room, including the bathrooms. When we moved to our house in Waukesha in 1976, it was on an acre and a half of land and it quickly became my mother’s playground. Plants were everywhere…next to the house, on either side of all walkways, up and down the driveway, around the patio, around the decorative rock placed at the bottom of the driveway, in random places around the “acreage”, in pots, in the ground, hanging from the eaves. A photographer once took a photo of our house from the air and then came to our door, looking to sell the photo. In it, my mother walked, in her perpetual cardigan sweater even in the summer, moving from plant to plant. And the yard was gorgeous.

When my parents traveled, my mother asked me to take care of the plants, a request that always turned my blood to ice. Understand that this wasn’t just filling a watering pot and dumping it on the plants. There were some plants that needed to be watered from the top, some from the bottom, some in special little tubes stuck into the soil. There was plant food – not for everybody. There was water that had to come from the outside hose into old milk bottles and left to sit in the basement for a certain amount of time before using it on only certain plants.

It was crazy.

No matter how hard I tried, I killed a few. My mother swore and cussed and said I was horrible and she would never ask me to watch them again…but then she would and the whole thing would start over.

When my mom passed away, homes were found for her plants. None came home to me. I was the plant-killer. I knew she wouldn’t want them there.

But see, there’s this little addendum. When I was a sophomore in high school, a teacher, Mr. Jacobson, asked me to take care of the plants in his room. I don’t remember why. But I did it, and I was particularly enamored of the plant called a Wandering Jew. I was hot on the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat then, and when Mr. Jacobson offered me two cuttings from his plant, I took them home, put them in pots, placed them on my stereo speakers, and named them Jacob and Joseph. They came with me to college. They grew and grew.

I added more plants in college. In my first few apartments, I had plants too. I enjoyed taking care of them. I enjoyed talking to them.

But after a visit from my mother, in which she plucked at my plants, told me I was watering them wrong, that they needed different sun or more shade, it never failed. I’d trip up and my plants would die. Eventually, I gave in to my fate as a plant-killer and I stopped having plants.

Back to the date palm. For some reason, at Christmas of 1981, my mother brought me the date palm that was my botanical twin. She reminded me that it was attached to me somehow, and if something happened to it…well, no pressure there, donchaknow. I put it next to my stereo, the same one where my Wandering Jews still sat and flourished. I watered the date palm and I talked to it. For all of three weeks.

And then my new kitten tried to climb it and snapped its trunk right in two.

Well…I’m still alive, aren’t I, some 40 years later.

But most of those 40 years, I’ve been plantless. There have been a few, here and there, and most of them died, confirming my status as a plant-killer. I’ve thought about that date palm often. I wept when I carried it to the dumpster. And I quickly closed my ears after I told my mother, via telephone, what happened to it.

We’ve lived in our current home for fifteen years. It houses AllWriters’. And in those fifteen years, some plants have crept back in, mostly in the classroom. A shefflera. An orchid. A Christmas cactus, given to me by Michael during my cancer year. A philodendron, because they’re supposed to be indestructible. A hibiscus tree, and then another hibiscus tree, and now my current hibiscus, Carla (yes, the other two died). The plants in the studio have thrived, and I’ve always said it’s because of the creativity of my students.

But you know, I take care of them. The plants. And my students.

Last week, someone on the NextDoor app asked if anyone wanted her date palm tree. It was getting too big, she said, to shift it from outdoors to indoors. I looked at the photo. And I know it wasn’t my twin, but I recognized it anyway. I told her I would take it.

The day I picked it up, it was pouring. The plant was left out on the driveway. She was stuck in a trashcan filled with dirt. And she looked miserable.

I knew how she felt.

I put her into my car, not worrying about the drenched fronds dripping on my leather seats. I didn’t worry about the dirt. I talked to the plant all the way home. Michael helped me get her into the studio. I welcomed her home. The next day, I bought her a new lovely pot and removed her from the garbage can.  I’ve talked to her every day and made sure she has plenty of water to help her through the shock of new home, new dirt, new pot.

She looks happy. I’m happy too.

So something I’ve learned. Do-overs are possible. And you don’t have to wait for someone to give one to you. You can just do it yourself. You can also learn to talk back. To speak up.

I’m not a plant-killer.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The new date palm tree. Not my twin. But she’ll do.


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