It’s a classic tale: the poor, abandoned orphan who perseveres, eventually overcoming hardship and heartache to become successful, happy, and universally admired. Charles Dickens might have written it. Oh, wait, Charles Dickens did write it. Several times, in fact.
But this particular story has unfolded right here in my very own home. Here is the uplifting (I think) tale of the Christmas cactus and the Thanksgiving cactus.
The Christmas cactus, a valued member of the family, can trace its ancestry back some 40 years to my grandmother’s plant, and back another 30 or 40 years to her cousin Minnie’s plant.
The Thanksgiving cactus was a gift to my daughter several years ago from someone who turned out to be a false friend. My daughter didn’t want the reminder of an unpleasant experience, so she left the cactus at my house.
I didn’t exactly welcome it with enthusiasm, but I took it in. I watered it. I kept it in the south window with the other plants. But I never talked to it, admired it, or even bothered to transplant it out of its original cheap plastic pot. It was just there, dutifully cared for but never loved. Sort of a step-cactus. A second-best cactus.
In response to this neglect, it did its best to thrive. It worked hard, blooming faithfully every year—even when my heirloom Christmas cactus did not. This outshining of my favorite, as Dickens could have predicted, did not make me love it. Over time, though, its quiet, uncomplaining dependability did generate a certain grudging respect and acceptance.
Last fall, I decided it was time to cut back the original plant. I snipped off several cuttings and plunked them into some water to take root—which, of course, they promptly did. Eventually I planted them in a new pot. Meanwhile, I kept watering the original plant, not wanting to throw it out until the new one was established.
Toward the end of November, I noticed buds on both plants. Obviously, the new one was thriving. But I certainly couldn’t dump out the old one while it was blooming. Even in Dickens’s time, condemned female criminals who were pregnant were reprieved long enough to bear their children.
So I waited and watered. All three cacti bloomed beautifully throughout the Christmas season, in an abundance and harmony that would have made Dickens proud.
We were out of town for much of January, and by the time we got home all the lovely pink-orange blossoms had dried up. Still, I didn’t quite get around to throwing out the original orphan plant.
And now, both Thanksgiving cacti are covered with an unheard-of second round of delicate pink buds. I don’t want two of them. But I can’t condemn a blooming cactus to the compost pile. They’ve done it again. When my back is turned, I swear I can hear them snickering.
Does anybody out there want a Thanksgiving cactus? Please, please, let me do the “far, far better thing” and give you one. Charles Dickens and I would both be grateful.