Trash and Treasure

It was a single shoot of green leaves with one, lone periwinkle bloom in a small red clay pot when my oldest son, Jack, gave it to me for Mother’s Day. Three years later, this plant, with its lavender blooms, is still one of my most-prized possessions.

The teachers in his class at school that year made sure all of the kids got a pot, and each child was encouraged to paint it. Mine had only one, bright-blue, inch-long smear. We had tried arts and crafts at home, so I knew Jack didn’t like to paint. When I saw it, there was no doubt that he had made this pot just for me, all by himself.

I was full-time at the children’s hospital with my daughter, Ellie, at that time. She was only a few weeks old and my father-in-law was in town. He helped us out by driving over from Oklahoma to be in charge of Jack when my husband and I were unable to be available.

As the story goes, Papa picked up Jack from school that day. He put Jack in the car seat in the back of his truck and the flower pot on the passenger side floor board in the front. By the time they got home, the flower and dirt had fallen out of the pot, and Papa did his best to put it all back together so that Jack could give it to me when I got home that night to do our bedtime routine.

The flower and pot sat in my kitchen near the window. I watered it dutifully. Jack was too young and it wasn’t important to him, but it was very important to me. It was the first gift Jack had given me on his “own.” And at that time, all of my emotions were raw and everything was important – especially things that I could exert some sense of control over.

Papa stayed with Jack pretty much every week from Monday through Thursday for about a year. It started when I was put on bedrest and unable to lift Jack while I was pregnant with Ellie, and he then continued the pattern once she was born so that we didn’t have to worry about what was happening at home.

He knew Jack’s schedule and learned Little Rock. He was a professional at small talk and didn’t say anything about it when I would come home with swollen, red, wet eyes or if I just went straight to my room to be alone. He did the laundry and grocery shopping, and he brought treats to the nurses at the hospital when he came to visit his granddaughter. He made sure Ben and I ate and that we saw Jack at least once per day. He also watered that plant, even though I never asked him to.

Eventually, the little clay pot broke when the new baby, Gus, pushed it over, but I was able to save the one important piece with the blue paint on it. I repotted the plant in a bigger container and it flourished in the sun on our front porch. I brought it in for the winter and fertilized it. Before long, it needed an even bigger home.

I asked my husband to carry the plant inside a couple of months ago. The outside temperature started to drop and I didn’t want to risk losing it. Now it sits in a very heavy, big ceramic pot beside my desk in a nook that connects the kitchen and den to the backdoor. It is a high traffic area of the house, but has big windows that let in sunlight most of the day.

The kids cannot leave this poor plant alone. Each day, I catch one or two or even all three of the kids inspecting the stems for new blooms and plucking even the newest purple bud.

I have talked to them about leaving the flowers so that they can continue to grow for us to enjoy for longer, but they don’t care, their sticky hands and giant, proud smiles still bring me the flowers.

“So you can always remember me when I am not here,” Jack tells me, afraid that I could ever forget him.

I put the harvested flowers in a very tiny decorative bird pitcher that belonged to my husband’s grandmother in the window sill above my kitchen sink.

The shard of that original clay pot that held the one blue swipe that Jack gave me for Mother’s Day years ago also lived in that window sill, but I noticed the other day that it wasn’t there anymore.

I am sure to whoever threw it away, it just looked like a broken piece of trash that had been put there by mistake. My first instinct was to feel a little sad about the missing piece of our history, almost as if I was afraid that I would ever forget it.  

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