The peace lily was part of the master bathroom landscape for so long, it faded into the background. I would water it, but nobody else did, and when I was away the poor thing would be left to go thirsty and dry. It stopped sending up flowers years ago, and that made me sad.
The peace lily was a living memory of my paternal grandmother. Nomo, as we called her, died in 2003 at age 95. Someone had sent the lily to the funeral home, and as we all left after the service that cold January day, my mom asked if I'd like to take it home. I transplanted it into a blue ceramic pot and gave it a spot in the big, sunny bathroom window. The plant seemed to thrive in the humidity next to the shower. It sent up a white flower or two that first year, and the next, and then it stopped.
Sometimes I would give the plant a shower, moving the pot into the shower stall and turning on the warm water full blast, and then let it linger in the steam. Invariably, I'd forget it was there; it would be waiting for me in the shower the next morning. I would move it back to its spot under the window.
"Water the lily," I told everybody as I left for a two-week trip to South America. But they forgot, and I returned home to find half the leaves had gone brown and curly. I watered, as if I could make up for neglect, dousing the soil with water and plant food and moving it outside into the warm sunshine.
But the harsh sun turned the water droplets into magnifying glasses on the leaves, and one evening there was nothing left of the plant but a thatch of straw and a shriveled leaf or two. Declaring the lily dead, I moved it into a corner of the dining room floor. I couldn't bear to throw it away.
It's not the only thing I have from Nomo. She was a towering figure and a kind presence all my life, and I never pass a day without thinking of her. Memories come from everywhere. But that was my Nomo plant, and I felt guilty that I'd neglected it.
This is where life has a way of looping back on itself, closing the circles that are left open and unfinished. I was in South America to visit a childhood friend, a farmer in Argentina's wine country. A year later, he's back in the United States.
And when he saw the lily, he said "it's not dead yet." There among the brown scrubby thicket of straw was the tiniest green shoot, no thicker than a toothpick. Patrick put the plant on the kitchen counter, back in a corner where it didn't get much sun. That dying plant faded into the background there, as it had in the bathroom.
And then one day I walked into the kitchen, and there on the counter was the blue pot with three little plants, shiny green babies with leaves reaching six inches toward the windows. Turns out that little green thread of life was eager and ready to have another go.
I'm still not sure how Patrick did it, how he coaxed life out of that dead pot. (He said I almost killed it because of too much water, not too little. I'm only to water it now when it's bone dry.) He's a farmer and a gardener, yes, but mostly he's patient and full of optimism.
The cool thing is, Patrick grew up across the street from me when we were little kids, and he knew Nomo, too. I'm not sure he was thinking about her when he rescued her plant.
But when I look at it now, as it grows an inch or so every week, I think of both of them.
Beth Dolinar is a former Riverside resident and Pittsburgh television reporter who is staying at home to raise her two children. She can be reached at cootieJ@aol.com.