The Christmas Cactus
My grandmother’s house was always filled with plants. In the vestibule hallway, at the front entrance were two snake plants, their sharp, green spears guarding the glass panels at each side of the door. Their variegated and yellow edged leaves twisted as they rose up from their soil filled ceramic planters.
In the formal sitting room, where kids weren’t allowed, were two huge Asparagus fern plants. They grew in pots that filled a cream colored wood and wicker “fern stand”. The leaves of the ferns’ leaves were fine and wispy hairs that cascaded over the sides of the stand in pale green clouds.
The window sills in the kitchen, the bathroom, and a built-in porch sported Geraniums of all colors, but were predominantly red. They were planted in shiny silver aluminum foil covered tin cans to survive the harsh winter. Some were being started from cuttings and others much, much older. She would grow them all winter until she could replant them in her dark green, wooden porch planter boxes in the spring. I can remember sitting on the toilet, reaching up, and touching their dark, dull green leaves. The heady and spicy aromatic oils would cling to my fingers for hours.
But the plant that impressed me the most was the gigantic Christmas cactus that dominated the hallway at the top of the stairs. It was old. My grandmother had probably started it when she was young and had just moved into the house. It had been replanted into larger and larger pots until it now filled the stainless steel chamber of a milk and cream separator. This pot was nearly fifteen inches deep and about twenty-eight inches across at its widest part. It was huge and Grandma kept it in the center of a dark oak library table that was in the style of Mission Oak furniture. The desk’s lines were straight, plain, and smooth. The top surface of it was covered by an inlaid piece of black leather.
As large as the separator top was, the Christmas cactus was so much larger. It rose nearly twelve inches above the top of its creamery planter. The thick, ropey branches draped over the sides until the tips of the longest rested on the table top. The flat oval green leaves looked like a waterfall pouring over the smooth silver sides. When it bloomed, the pink and white multilayered blossoms looked like tiny, frilly petticoats. They were so numerous; they often concealed most of the flat green leaves. Because it was cool and dark at the top of the stairs, the blossoms seemed to last for months.