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A Cactus Story

The sunny corner of my office has become a rehabilitation center for abused, neglected, or traumatized plants. Why? Maybe because of my experience looking after the sick, or because my daughters and their friends don't have the time or energy to care for them. I didn't have time for houseplants while in the grind of jobs and kids, either. So the current patient roster includes: three orchids that survived drowning, one that almost died of thirst, a dragon tree that fell three feet to the floor and broke its trunk in half, and a mini rose bush suffering from fungus gnats.

Finally there's a succulent that my sister-in-law didn't want anymore. She called it a Christmas Cactus and claimed it would bloom in December. Intrigued, I researched its care, and discovered a complicated program of 10 hours of light, alternated by 14 hours of complete darkness, and an environment of between 55 and 65 degrees. Do you know how impossible it is to find a spot that is 60 degrees in your house? Unless you have a wine cellar or cold storage -- which I don't -- it's impossible. Not the garage. Not the garden shed. Not the fridge.

I like plants, but if they are too high maintenance I lose interest. So after an effort to provide everything it needed for a year, I gave up and ignored the cactus. Ungrateful wretch. Bloom, don't bloom, I was beyond caring. It was still attractive with its thick, pointy leaves, so I watered it once in a while and put it next to a bright window in the plant infirmary.

Then the miracle happened. The cactus sprouted flower buds a few weeks ago. I was very excited and posted a photo on my social media garden group. Immediately, the verdicts came in.

"That's not a Christmas cactus. That's a Thanksgiving cactus. Different plant altogether."

I'll admit to a twinge -- or several twinges -- of guilt. This cactus survived misidentification (ignorance is not a defense). It survived the torture of sunlight deprivation and cold while stuck in my furnace room for weeks on end. And even though I'd given up on it, it stayed true to itself, beat the odds, and will be in full bloom right on time for (US) Thanksgiving 2020.

I'm humbled, and my mind is whirling with idioms right now. You can't make a purse out of sow's ear. Appearances are deceiving. The best laid plans. And to quote Shakespeare, "To thine own self be true."

So I'm thankful to have a happy cactus. I will enjoy its beautiful flowers as long as they last, especially during this dark, grey month of November. Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends and family.

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