There you stand. Tall, though not as tall as in your prime. Your stance is straight. But you no longer radiate abundance. Yet, what should I expect? You have grown old. You know, we have been together for forty-five years. Do you remember the first time I saw you at Marder’s ? You were so beautiful. So graceful and lyrical. Almost whimsical with your immense bulb half extended above the soil line.
My husband and I were in the process of renovating our home. The minute I saw you I knew you would fit in. Perfectly. I had never seen a Pony Tail Palm before and quite honestly you were the Cat’s meow. How fortuitous a pun because when I brought you home and placed you beside the picture window in the dining room, it was into your pot, between your long glorious strands of leaves that Mike, our newly adopted male cat, made himself at home. Do you remember the screeching of the children when they learned that Mike was not a boy after all and was giving birth right there beside you?
Well. You survived ten years sunning yourself in that bright room, with the children bouncing about, and many a day that dining room overflowed with family celebrations. Passovers every year. Birthdays. What crowds. You didn’t even react to our guests running their fingers through your long leaves. And how I loved how your older leaves browned and hung winsomely in waves as you matured and your new leaves grew up and out from your crown in cascades of fullness.
You were very versatile . The time you and I left that home and moved into a one bedroom apartment and the space was crowded with my sofa bed, kitchen table and chairs, end table and coffee table, all in the living room! The bedroom was converted into an art studio. The light was so bad I asked a friend to house you for a while. You and my favorite rocker and a few other precious items stayed in that other apartment for a year until Mal and I rented a wonderful old farm house. I reclaimed you and placed you in the corner room enlivened by the cantaloupe colored walls Mal and I painted. You faced the window and looked out at the path to the front entrance we rarely used. Do you remember the day my ex dropped my three kids off for the afternoon and Mal’s daughter joined us? So much laughter as we all painted the kitchen cabinets yellow. I think some paint splattered on your sinuous leaves. But it didn’t matter. You continued to grow and flourish .
I never thought about it until now, but you have always been there – here. Wherever my “here” has been.After a few years we relocated. You, me and Mal. To a tiny two bedroom house we bought shortly before I re- married . You were in the dining room again next to a window that overlooked the steep fenced-in yard. This time you had the company of a puppy instead of a cat. His name was MacCabee. He was a bearded collie and I must confess he was one of the great loves of my life. But what a handful! We put a doggie fence up at the entrance between the kitchen and dining room. You were privy to all his yips and yelps. You even witnessed me running naked into the kitchen at 3 AM one morning to let him out. I skidded on his peed-upon floor and broke my toe!
Flash ahead eight years – a new house. Modestly larger on the water. What a beautiful view. This time you were upstairs in our bedroom beside the 4 double windows that overlooked the bay. Our first grandchild frequently stood beside you in his Superman costume. He would measure his getting taller against you. You always won! Oh the views from that floor! The migration of wild geese. The ice fishing. The practice rescues by the fire department on the frozen bay. The summer sailing. The clamming .
And then relocating to our current house in North Sea. More property. More rooms. Less light. You are in our bedroom again. This time by the sliding glass door. One summer I moved you outside onto the deck beside our bedroom. You were heavy. I had to roll you along on your side and then hold my breath as I pulled your pot backwards to right you. The outside light was too much. Your new growth browned . So I moved you back in. You continued to grow. A second branch budded and grew so tall and wide it fell over. Reluctantly I sawed it off.
We are in this house 15 years, my friend. The town has changed and grown busier and nosier and you have experienced crowding here as well. Our children and five grandchildren and sometimes pets visit on holidays and summer breaks. Up to recently, our three youngest grandchildren slept together on blow-up beds beside you. Sometimes your leaves would fray and rip from over zealous jumps and cartwheels which frequently ended with legs splayed against your impervious trunk.
And, you went on, as always. As expected. Patiently, just being. Then last month I noticed you. I mean I really noticed you. I was shocked. I ran my fingers along your leaves, between your leaves. There were so few. You are frail now. You are failing. My heart is heavy. It never occurred to me you wouldn’t be my life long companion. Does a Pony Tail Palm have a life expectancy? I am afraid to find out.
Do you remember the story I read to the children when they were little? A young girl was very sick and bedridden. Beside her was a window and next to it was a tree whose leaves were falling. She believed she would die when the last leaf fell. But it never did and she lived on because a neighbor had painted a leaf on the wall behind the tree.
I look at you. I am scared. If I repot you, can I bring us some tomorrows? Can we still go on together? A team. You know? You and me.
I am suddenly aware I may be killing you with overwatering. A Jewish mother who is afraid her children will starve, her plants will wither. “Have some water,” I say to you. And some fertilizer. You look dry. Your leaves are pale.” Your long glorious leaves have browned closer to the crown. And the few new ones are already brown and unable reach up and out toward the sky in celebration of the air and clouds. They cannot arch gracefully, lovingly toward the earth. Your strong and majestic bulb has softened to mush. I repot you, I drag you outside into the stippled sunlight. I resort to not watering,
Last Monday, on Memorial Day, when the our Towns were celebrating with parades and family parties and there was merriment along with honors for the many lost in battle – on this memorable day you died. Not with fanfare. Quietly as you lived. Slowly as you aged .
It was at dawn, as I stood before you, running my palm along the breadth of your leaves, that your once stately trunk folded over, in half, from your center. Two feet of your sharp edged leaves brushed onto the ground and lay like long bristles of a worn broom. I lifted them. Held them upright. Embraced them as a frail child. I tried in vain to tear them from your vanquished stalk so I could hang them, braid them, do something to transform their forsaken life. But they would not tear and I would not, could not get a knife.
You are there. Still. On the deck. Bent in half. My eyes settle on your brittle leaves as I stretch upright to welcome morning. I am not yet ready to say good-bye. I don’t want to let you go. My dear friend, if only we could rewind time and do it over… I would be wiser.
Perhaps I should cut and scatter your long locks into the woods, like one does with the ashes of the cremated. And chop the remains of your stalk and bulb and toss them among the composted leaves in the yard. You will become nourishment for tomorrow’s hostas tiger , lillys, ferns and daffodils here on Noyac Road in North Sea..
And I …I will smile.