Best buds…

In January, 2015 I wrote a story called The Burbs. The time frame from this post was during 1987-1994, when we lived in Jackson the first time. That move was significant in many ways. First time we ever moved from our native state of Iowa. (We never thought we’d still be in Michigan 32 years later). I had a great group of friends in Davenport. Leaving the Quad Cities was very emotional for the whole family, and moving the kids was tough on us. They were 16, 12 & 8. Heavy emphasis on tough for the one who had just turned 16.

Great house on McCain Road with awesome neighbors, 1990…

My story on The Burbs was more about my neighbors on McCain Road. I was in my mid-30’s with 3 kids in school. It was easy to meet people. Maybe the root of my loner-ness in recent years has been caused by my hearing loss, but I blame much of it on my age. At least for me, it’s harder to meet and develop lasting relationships when you’re over 60. Everyone my age already has their inner circle of friends. They don’t need another friend to fill a gap in their life. It’s just easier to stay home. But I wasn’t like this 30 years ago. I considered myself quite outgoing. There have been significant changes.

The Burbs house was located in a huge oval subdivision, consisting of about 60 homes. Every lot was about an acre so these homes weren’t very close together. Hard to believe, but at the time I knew the occupants (by name) in at least 50 of those homes. (Fast forward 30 years. We’ve been back in Jackson for 3 years. I know 5 neighbors by name. First name only-of 4 of them). Much of this is my fault. Hubs wanders around the yard, spraying, weeding, mowing, watering. Next thing I know, he’s been talking to a neighbor or a couple out walking for 15 minutes. (Though he doesn’t always remember their names. Chalk one up for me). But that’s just not me anymore. For starters, I’m rarely outdoors unless I’m sitting on the deck, trimming errant branches off new landscaping or weeding my pachysandra bed. Conversing is tough for me. If there’s any distractions, cars going past, wind, tire drone off nearby I-94, or lawn mowers in the background, I miss much of the conversation.

Joshua with grandma Mag before tree taken out and poured patio, 1988

Now about those neighbors on McCain Road. Three of them would be of key importance in my life. Two of the gals, Diane & Elissa are my age and all of us had kids around the same age. Mildred was twice my age, we were as different as night and day, yet we became close friends for a lifetime. After we moved 150 miles west seven years later, every time I came to Jackson to visit Shannon, I spent time at Mildred’s house and went out for breakfast or lunch with Diane.

Mildred passed away in 2006, so our friendship lasted 20 years. She had two children, 5 grandchildren and several greats by then. After Mildred’s family divided up what they wanted and were ready to dispense with the contents and sell her home, I was invited over before the sale. I could choose a couple things that reminded me of Mildred. One item was a small watercolor which hung in the bathroom I used when I stayed with her.

My dear friend Mildred, the classiest woman I’ve ever known…

The other item given to me was one of her plants. Mildred mentioned the plant numerous times through the years. It was given to her by her relatives decades before. She said it was 50 years old when we were neighbors. Let’s just round that date off to 1990, making that plant about 80 years old now. And I almost killed it. I’m a horrible person.

The plant (I named her Millie, I’m so original) wasn’t exactly a raving beauty before she came to reside with me. Mildred had a lovely family room and spent a lot of time in there. The room had an enormous picture window overlooking her lovely backyard. Millie (the plant) spent winters sitting in that window, getting some much needed light during Michigan’s gloomiest season. During the summer, Mildred would move Millie out to her covered patio. There she sat, lopsided, root bound in an old clay pot, pushing out new growth in spite of no preferential treatment. None.

Mildred’s egg coddlers, made in England. No, I’ve never made eggs in them…

So I lugged home the chair I sat in during our visits, the egg coddlers (yes, they’re a real thing) an indigo blue teapot, her hand tailored wedding dress (still trying to get ahold of family who might want to reclaim it. I am hesitant to get rid of the dress, but recently have considered donating it to a lady who makes baby gowns from old wedding dresses for parents whose babies were stillborn). Conundrum. Plus guilt.

Mildred’s everyday teapot, we had tea together often…

I’ve never had much of a green thumb. You could probably tell that when I said I’m not keen on being outside. I’d rather be inside, reading, cooking, canning or baking. Or doing nothing. I’m really good at that. But under my care, Mildred’s Christmas Cactus responded splendidly. Millie was huge and magnificent. Repotting her helped a lot. I’m just anal enough to be enormously bothered by a lopsided plant. I bought a pretty pot, threw in new soil, fertilizer, plopped Millie in there ramrod straight. She was quite appreciative and graced me with hundreds of gorgeous red blooms twice a year. Usually between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and during the spring around Easter. This relationship flourished for ten years.

2015 was stressful but good. We finally got an offer on our house in North Muskegon and closed on it late that summer. We purged numerous pickup loads, embracing our upcoming move and welcomed the downsizing, instead of cringing on what we were leaving behind, selling or giving away. (It was hard. I had grown unhealthily attached to stuff). Shannon and Tracey had generously offered us sanctuary while we renovated our new little home before it was habitable. Yikes, it was pretty bad. We stored everything but the clothes on our backs, (ok, that’s a bit of a stretch but pretty close) and my plants, which I plopped on Shannon’s front porch and promptly forgot.

Millie, in all her glory, 2013. I almost killed her a couple years later….

Six weeks later, mid-October we hired movers for a second time (no, once was not enough) to pick up everything from storage and cram (still) too much stuff in our yet, unfinished house. As I was loading plants in my Jeep I noticed all my African violets were beyond saving. I felt really bad because they were gifted to me, but I was encouraged because Mildred’s Christmas Cactus looked pretty good. I snagged an antique oak plant stand from the movers, set Millie in a south window while we unpacked, moved things around, finished enlarging the master bedroom, and got carpet installed.

Thanksgiving was fast approaching and I was trying to figure out how to feed our family of 13 in a 4 person dining room when I realized there were no buds on Millie. Strange and disturbing. Besides no blooms peeking, my whole plant looked weary, worn out, pale & pooped. (Kind of like Hubs and I after feverishly remodeling for 2 months). Come to think of it, I’d felt her soil several times in recent weeks, never giving any thought that she never needed watering. In fact, the dirt was still sopping wet after being inside and not watered once for several weeks.

The watercolor I was given was Mildred’s estate, 2006…

I was beginning to panic about losing Millie. Realistically it was impossible because I had trimmed her numerous times during our decade together and ‘started’ many baby plants with the clippings. So Mildred’s heirs lived on and I knew where the adoptees had been placed. All three of my kids had Mildred’s young-uns (although Shannon keeps trying to kill hers. She’s good with plants except for Millie Jr. Dr. Shannon’s either too busy healing people or baby Millie is lonesome for her mama and me so she periodically comes to stay for extended visits. Both boy’s plants continue to thrive). Still-it’s not the same. I didn’t want to lose the original mother plant.

I needed help. One of my old Rock Valley school buddies, Marlys Etter’s hands are all green thumbs (yes, she looks strange but Marlys is oblivious, so play along). I asked her what I could do to save Millie? She said, “she’s drowning Neese. No matter how long you wait, that soil is not going to dry up. The roots of your plant are literally rotting. Get her out of there now. Save what you can. Start with some gravel, new soil and plant the greenest, driest clippings you can salvage.”

Yup, between moving twice in 8 weeks, I let 4 gorgeous African Violets die…

That was 3 years ago. (Sarah & Adam’s beautiful Cactus, Millie Jr. Jr. Jr. is doing exceptionally well, and Sarah’s offered me clippings for a starter plant. But I held out, hoping I could nudge Matriarch Millie back to her feisty self). No, I didn’t lose the original plant. But she’s a shell of her former self. Maybe the word I’m looking for is dormant. It’s like she was in shock (sick from my neglect) and needed to ‘lay low’ until she felt better. Three years. No more summers outdoors either. Millie was royally ticked but I stood firm. She had the life of Riley in North Muskegon. Covered and protected by our front porch where she got tons of light but stayed out of direct sun, wind and rain. But the front and back of our house now offers no protection, so Millie’s spending all of her summers indoors. Period.

The beginning of November this year I noticed something. Millie seemed bigger, greener, taller. And what were those tiny growths on the end of some of her fronds? Oh my stars! She’s pushing out buds like there’s no tomorrow. While Millie’s top heavy in some spots, kinda frail looking elsewhere, and definitely not yet needing a trim, she looks fully recovered and healthy. My Millie’s back and right on schedule…

She is a bit lopsided, but Millie’s made it back from the brink, 2018. Thanks Mar…

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