• Kathy Coudle-King

"Are the voices in your head calling?" Gloria!

It is slightly after 7 a.m. I am sitting on my love seat in the living room by the open window. The birds are gossiping: Who got the worm? The crows are cawing from high in the pines. “Hey, you! Yeah, you! This is our block!” The crows are the mafia in the ‘hood.


A long, green leaf brushes my shoulder. “The Plant” in my living room is in bloom. I don’t know what kind of plant it is. Deb and Carol gave it to us when they moved to South Dakota in the early ‘90s. It is fragrant this morning with more than 12 white blooms. If I close my eyes – the cool breeze coming through the open window, birds welcoming the day, and the scent of The Plant – I am somewhere exotic – a cedar deck in New Zealand, a patio in an English garden, . . . not a city street in Grand Forks, North Dakota.


After some-20 years, The Plant – let’s call her Gloria -- flowered for the first time last summer. I was shocked. I had no idea Gloria was a flowering plant! She kind of looks like a corn plant, and I would have been less surprised to see an ear of the yellow stuff sprouting. Gloria is tall, about 4’, and has two stalks that look like bamboo coming out of the soil. She used to have more stalks but, well, let’s just say I don’t have a “green thumb”.


Bless me Mother Nature, for I have sinned: I have not taken very good care of your creations.


Gloria sits in the living room, corner window and that is the only reason she is still alive. She began in the dining room (east), I dragged her to the dark corner by the stairs, then tucked her out of the way by the north/west window. She gets supplanted by a Christmas tree each December, and she never complains. I’ve forgotten to water her for weeks, okay -- months. I’ve never fertilized her, never given her much thought aside from some guilt. However, last year I did something different. I added some new potting soil that was left over from another planting project.


Okay, that deserves an explanation since I basically admitted my house is where plants come to die. See, each spring, just like the return of the flies, I decide to plant some flowers in my yard. I spend way too much money on annuals, perennials, and mulch. I heard mulch keeps out weeds. (It’s a LIE.) Then I get home, paw around in the dirt for a couple hours, feeling all “gardener-y” and call ‘er done. The next day I commiserate with gardening friends about how much my back hurts. And that’s it. I came, I planted, I moved on to learning to knit. Again.


I have a Nurse Ratchet-type of personality when it comes to many aspects of life, and gardening is no exception. You either live or die in my yard. That’s it. Not drought resistant? Too bad. Need pruning? Sorry, this relationship isn’t going to work. Grow or don’t grow. After I’ve planted, they are on their own.


(By the way, don’t ever ask me to teach you to swim.)

Anyway, this plant that Deb and Carol bequeathed to me is flowering for the second time in more than two decades. It feels Biblical. A rainbow after the flood?


The first time Gloria bloomed, I entered the living room, which was filled with this incredible perfume. I stopped and sniffed the air. I have the nose of a bloodhound. I can tell exactly the second when the cookies are turning from crisp to burnt. What was that new scent in the house? Then I saw them: Puffs of white poking out from her long, green leaves in the corner of the room. Honestly, they kind of look like the model of the Coronavirus, except they’re white instead of red. Up close the petals are long, spikey tubes, maybe fifty to a single puff. Even in the midst of leaves tinged with brown ends, they have burst open. There is a certain audacity to Gloria.


“You underestimated me,” she seems to say. “Didn’t know I could do this, huh?” Gotta love that in a plant or a person.


Gloria blooms for over a week and then her flowers shrink, and her petals pepper the carpet. It has been over a week now, and I am already mourning the loss. Why can’t she bloom all year? Why can’t she grace my home with her sultry fragrance through the summer, fall, and especially winter? Why can’t it last?


You know why. And even if she did bloom forever, I wouldn’t notice her scent if it were present every day. I would take it for granted. Because that’s what we do – or maybe I do. I take beauty for granted. I take the birds and the trees and the grass and even life for granted. Until I get a whiff of the end. (Remember, I have a super sniffer.)


Isn’t that what most of us do? When put on alert, we cling, we beg, we demand, we barter. The fact is we have so little control over anything. When we truly accept that, deep in our bones, we then take the sage advice of Shakespeare, “Gather ye rose buds while ye may.”

Life is ephemeral, which is what makes it so heartbreaking and precious. Gloria is blooming. Today.


Writing challenge: Close your eyes, inhale, listen, feel the breath of the world on your skin. What will you miss most when all is gone? We do not know what the future will bring, but this moment – this moment is a present.

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Frances Perkins

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