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Rated: E · Short Story · Biographical · #2022768
True story of my very very very old Christmas cactus:Writer's Cramp Winner 12/21/14
Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a woman was born with a name so unpleasant to the ear, that upon hearing it, most couldn't help but physically cringe. Florine. While in today's day and age, it may sound like a dependable dental brand, back then, in a small town, it was met with bemused shock. Her brother simply took to referring to her as “Sissie”. This was admittedly easier than explaining that she was not in fact named after the Periodic element Flourine OR a dental salve. The nickname stuck, and I grew up knowing her only as Aunt Sissie.

Technically, she was my “Great” Aunt, but such detail was lost on me as a young child. Looking back, so was the fact that she was my Aunt and not my Ant. I can recall a particular incident wherein I addressed a thank you card to her as the latter. Fortunately, she wasn't one to dwell on such slights. In fact, that card received a spot of honor on the bulletin board in her “laundry room” just the same and remained there for years.

She was a “silly” woman, and I was never a silly child. Yet I couldn't help but be drawn into her infectious joy at dying Easter eggs and hiding them well beyond the years I might imagine that an Easter Bunny existed. Such was our relationship, as she lived far enough away that I only really got to see her for holidays. It was only once I went to college, and had my first car, I was finally able to visit her more often outside just Christmas and Easter.

On one of the trips, I remember talking to her about my boyfriend.

“His name is Michael.”

“I always liked the name Michael,” she informed with a gap-toothed smile. Despite her age at that point, she was still an attractive woman who had all her original teeth.

“He's super nice. You'd really like him.” I was hesitant and not selling him very well seeing as how this was the first time I'd introduced the subject of a serious boyfriend.

As though it was yesterday, I can recall my Aunt pausing and then warmly returning, “Well kid - if you like him, I'm sure I will too.”

It's funny really, as usually she had a habit of saying the most inane things. (Once on a drive to go see wildlife she exclaimed, “In these tall weeds, you couldn't see a deer if you saw one!”) Yet on this occasion, when I needed reassurance, she was there with the most prophetic expression.

Of course, at that point, I was actually living with Michael and it was pretty serious or I wouldn't be introducing the subject to my aged Aunt. While the fact that we had been sharing an apartment was logistically efficient and quite common for someone my age in college, it was a bit challenging for Aunt Sissie to accept as she was old-school Methodist and this just wasn't done.

She told me, “Well kid, I just don't understand the whole 'living together' thing before marriage.” I was sure of myself though, and she was sure of me, so she was able to overlook such a transgression - for my benefit at least.

“Here,” she said springing from the couch like a child, a feat that fascinated me as she was 78 at the time. “I want to give you an apartment-warming gift!” she said bouncing toward the huge console TV at the center of her living room.

She didn't have a lot to spare, but she plucked up a Christmas cactus from the top of the TV cabinet and handed it to me with a grin.

I hesitantly took the plant from her. “Are you sure?” It was a glossy succulent with flaming pink blooms and was the only living thing in the house... Aside from a sickly fern that was dying a slow death of second hand smoke inhalation....

“I haven't killed it yet,” she laughed.

So I thanked her and toted my new Christmas cactus back to the apartment I shared with Michael at college.

It was my first real plant, but I was a busy college student, so it got a lick and a promise and watered randomly now and again – and yet it lived. I graduated, it bloomed. I moved back North, it bloomed. I ended up marrying Michael, it bloomed. And even when my “Great” Aunt Sissie passed, it bloomed.

Over the past 26 years, this Christmas cactus has bloomed on almost every monumental occasion in my life... Yet absurdly - never around Christmas!

And to this day, it never ceases to remind me of my Aunt Sissie – full of life, much older than anyone would guess.... And never ceasing to amaze.
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