Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Big Foot Lives

Back when we first moved to Bastrop, there was a little five-and-dime store down on Main Street. In the rear of the store was a section where you could pick up a few houseplants and the odd vegetable seedling in spring. Mother and I would hit that little store regularly and one day we decided to pick up a couple of philodendrons. We brought them home and hers can be seen in this old photo taken on her front porch. The philodendron is the one closest to the step, at far left. (The dog in the photo is the infamous Fancy who ruled the house with an iron fist in a velvet paw for 9 years.)

We did not know what we had taken on. The philodendron was of the Monstera variety and it began to grow with a vengence. (Mine disappeared over time, probably a victim of the casual neglect with which I treated plants in those days.) We kept repotting into larger and larger pots, faithfully moving it inside when the threat of frost was upon us. For several years it wintered in the dining room, perched high on the platform created by the top of the closet that had been added in that room years after the house had been built.

When it grew too big for the house, Mother and David would haul it down to Mother's school room for the winter and haul it back home at the end of the semester. Finally, one year we were just tired of trying to find room for it every winter and we contemplated leaving it outside to take its chances. Our neighbor across the street, who has one of the greenest thumbs I've ever seen aside from my grandmother Lucy's, assured us it would do just fine if we just stuck it in the ground and covered it during cold weather. We decided to do just that, and it spent several more years living in the flower bed next to the front porch.

As the plant grew and matured, it developed a large trunk-like base and we began to refer to it as "Big Foot". We were all rather fond of the enormous plant and when we decided to move to our present house, there was no doubt in any of our minds that Big Foot would have to be excavated and relocated as well. By that time, he was well into his twenties.

Big Foot took residence in the flower bed on the north side of the house and once again began to flourish. Every winter, at the first sign of a killer frost, I would faithfully go out and put a big plastic cover over him, weight it down with stones, and ignore him until the frost danger was past. Every year, he would spring out from under the cover with a few wilted leaves, but for the most part just fine and dandy.

This past year, I thought we had lost him. We had an extended period of freezing weather and I had not done as good a job of keeping him adequately covered as I had in years past. When spring arrived and I removed the wrappings, all the leaves were dead and the trunk that had earned him his name was dry and brittle. I felt guilty for not having kept an eye on him through the winter, but my attention had been distracted by Mother's last illness and I had not given him a second thought. Big Foot was dead at the age of approximately 35 years.

I reasoned that it was appropriate that Big Foot had perished in the same winter that we lost Mother. She had been the one who had tended him and coddled him for most of his life. I did not attempt to remove the stump, deciding to leave it for another day when I felt the urge to clean out that flower bed. I had every intention of purchasing another Monstera philodendron to plant in that spot in Mother's and Big Foot's memories.

It had been several weeks since I had spent any time on that side of the house. On Monday I was clearing the dead pine blooms off the deck and emptying pots where other plants had perished in the winter freeze. When I walked down the side of the house to dispose of some trash, I glanced at the place where Big Foot had lived and was amazed to see a couple of great big green leaves waving at me.

On closer inspection I found that new growth was emerging - not from the old trunk, but from a new place a few inches from it. Big Foot Lives! It was like seeing an old friend you thought you had lost forever.

Here's hoping Big Foot's descendants are as sturdy and vigorous as their grandpa.


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