Saturday, August 30, 2008

How I Became an Inadvertent Aloe Farmer

 "You have to love your children unselfishly. That's hard. But it's the only way. "
Barbara Bush

I wasn't trying to become an Aloe Farmer, but I became one anyway. You see I bought one at the Acme one day, because "You never know when you'll get a kitchen burn, or a sun burn, and Aloe is of course the great herbal healer of all things skin." I did have 3 young children, you know, and a husband who's an eagle scout, so I've learned to "Be Prepared."

I managed to get it home safely, without breaking off any limbs, so  That day was uneventful, as were the 7 years that followed, until one day, in December I decided to move my Aloe Plant as well as the others that were in my sun room to a new location. The only interesting thing that had happened to it prior to this move, had been a couple re- pottings as it had grown, although it hadn't grown much. It had, although, been a tricky little bugger to re pot. I took great care in centering it squarely in the middle of it's new and improved larger pot, so that it could spread its roots and stretch out. As I said, it was a tricky little bugger, for after it was successfully re- potted, it appeared to have moved off to the right somewhat, and was now not centered at all. I was baffled, and tried to center it once again, being fairly anal about such things. Days would pass, and it kept moving back. it clearly had a mind of it's own.

But back to the plant relocation. I did this because we like to put our Christmas tree in the sun room, and we like to buy the largest one we can fit there, and sometimes even larger. Therefore, we had to make room for our dead tree, by moving the Living plants to a new locale. I thought it best not to make the move too drastic, and the plants in the sun room really did seem to like their location, so I opted for a lateral move, two rooms over, into the uninhabited, by plant or person, "living Room." Funny name, since no one lives there. But, occasionally, our 16 year old geriatric dog Marlin did like to crap there, which did, I have to admit, give it that "Lived in " feel, and smell.

 At the time, We liked to keep other folks abandoned furniture there; china cabinets from grandmother's homes, "Antique"rickety "pie safes," and "dough trays," and reupholstered Martha Washington Chairs from other grandmother's homes. The usual. You know, to make the room look lived in. One thing's for sure, Our kids and our Dogs had unlimited permission to go in there, since the furniture was, you know, not your typical off limits living Room furniture.

   One by one, I carried the various plants to their new resting spot, complete with the wrought iron stand that housed them. I rearranged the abandoned furniture to make room for the new living room members, choosing  a window in which to place them near which faced the same direction as the sun room's windows. 

I have to admit, I was worried about them.As I worry about my kids and my pets, and everything else. Not the windows, but the plants. I have heard that plants don't like to be moved, and well, you know what "They'" Say, If it ain't broke, Don't fix it. But things being as they were, we had to make room for that 11 ft Christmas Tree. Of course, that meant not only moving out the living plants to make way for the temporary  11 ft dead one, but cutting " a few inches" off the bottom, (and the top) to allow it to fit in under our 10 ft ceiling. The ceiling  is  vaulted, so, as you can imagine, it can be deceiving.
 Clark Griswold's Got Nothing on us. 

So back to the Aloe Plants. Yes, this is about Aloe Plants, and How I became an inadvertent Aloe Farmer. After they were all situated, the plants and the furniture, I got my watering can, and began over watering them, you know, to give them a little extra love to make up  for disrupting their otherwise uneventful lives. A little "somethin'-somethin'." You see, aloe plants are succulents, and need infrequent watering as they are native to arid climates. They store water in their leaves, which become swollen with moisture for that time when their owners go on vacation, and they must conserve their resources. They are the eagle scouts of the plant World. They're always prepared.

Setting the can down, and looking around, I just had to rearrange the furniture one more time, as it just didn't look quite as nice as it did when it was just abandoned furniture in an unused room. Now, the room did indeed have a purpose. And as such, it needed to feel that way. It needed to feel like a guest room, and the guests needed to feel Welcome. After all, they serve a potentially very important purpose as the first responders in the Ives Family  Burn Unit. The only thing that was missing now was some of those  disposable, just for guests hand towels that look like really expensive, and oversized, extra decorative napkins. That would really make them feel welcome, you know, in case there were some unexpected spills that needed to be cleaned or picked up, or leaks from over watering that needed to be addressed.

As the weeks went on, they settled in nicely. I felt bad that they weren't part of the Christmas fun, residing now two rooms down from the festivities that were rightfully theirs, but they were stoic troopers, and deep inside, they knew they'd be returned to their original room, after the intruder was dragged out, leaving all of its  brittle needles behind in a trail that only a pyro could love.

That year, our 11 ft Christmas Tree had a short stay, as we were off for a family vacation to St. Martin one day Post Christmas. You know, you can't  in good faith, leave a dead Christmas Tree in the house unwatered for a week. That would be a fire hazard. We'd forgotten to water it for a week already, so it was pretty imperative that we drag it out onto the deck where it would sit until we forgot that it was tree pick up day. Then we'd drag it out faithfully to the curb for the next pick up, which wouldn't occur for another week or so, which was a good thing, because in our rush to get it out the door and start packing for the islands, we might have overlooked a few rogue ornaments-- You know, some of those irreplaceable ones that you found in the drawers of your grandmother's china cabinet. Driving past it each morning as you left for your daily activities, sometimes something shiny would catch your eye, and you'd thank your lucky stars, cause grandmas like to visit their grand kids and their ornaments over the holidays, and making sure that you actually still have them is always wise.

With that out of the way, and as many tree needles vacuumed as we could, I began my pilgrimage to the living Room to prepare the plants for their homecoming.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear, 
but a new appendage on my Aloe plant, 
not in the front, but the rear.
I blinked out my eyes
It wasn't a leaf
It was more like a stalk
it was growing a flower
and all I could do was gawk

For seven years I had owned it
 and never seen such a sight
 never used it for burns
or injuries from fights

Maybe it liked its location so much
that it sprouted a flower  to tell us and such.
 But nevertheless, I was moving it back
Since the Sun room was empty
and it was time now to pack.

I shook my head and carried the plants back to the sun room one by one trying to remember where they'd originally resided.

Before long we were at the airport, awaiting our departure to St. Martin that never happened that day. After waiting for hours, at the hands of an extremely understaffed Us air Terminal,we missed our boarding and we gathered up our things to return the next morning. Upon our Arrival on the St. Martin Shores, we breathed a sigh of relief, changing into our bathing suits, and finding the closest rum drink we could muster.
The next day brought a trip to the local beach where the kids were introduced to the local European Island culture of sunbathing topless. We waited for our 13 year old son to notice, and snickered to ourselves explaining to our son and daughters that these women were from a different country and it was "part" of their culture. Actually two parts.  Before long we were greeted by one of the natives carrying a back pack and hawking a special skin care aid for sun burns. His large dark hands encased the plump familiar looking leaves. Apparently, he wasn't allowed to sell his wares on the public part of the beach, but before he got kicked off by he authorities, which he was well accustomed to, he found us, and my husband gladly agreed to buy some of his wares. Not all of the patrons were as eager to interact with this local, but we figured he had something useful that we actually wanted, and so it was a win- win.
Yes, dear reader, this is an important part of the story, because remember, this story is about how I became an inadvertent Aloe Farmer, and this man was indeed selling Aloe, to address the highly likely possibility that one or two of us might inadvertently  get overdosed By the St. Martin Sun. So pay attention.

We agreed on a price of 15 American dollars for our share of the spoils of the Aloe crop in his hand. Whereby, he now reached into his back pack and removed a glass rum bottle, unscrewed the  metal cap, and proceeded to use it as a tool to split the edge of the aloe leaf, all the way to the tip, opened it like a book, and then used the cap to scoop the  rich contents of the leaf into the glass rum bottle. He continued this process until the aloe bunch was gone, and it occurred to me that this Aloe farmer might know why, after seven years, my own Aloe plant had all of a sudden grown a stalk and flowered. 
I was at the right place at the right time.

This man, who the other vacationers thought was a menace, hawking his crop to make a living, gave me the answer that would allow me to become an Aloe farmer myself. Albeit, an inadvertent one.
The answer he gave me was this:
"Your plant has become mature. It's going to have Babies."
Quick! Someone start boiling the water.
With a little Internet research, I probably could have found that out myself, although at the time, I probably wasn't savvy enough to  figure it out.
That was the first and last time I used fresh Aloe to treat a sunburn. And in hindsight, my Aloe plant was now mature, whether the native man  had told me or not, and it would still  have done what mature plants all over the world have done for millennia: reproduce. 
But, that, as Winnie the Pooh would say, is "neither here nor  there."
I still think it's interesting how I found out what was to come.

When we got back home, we drove up the driveway, past our now  deader Christmas tree at the curb, parked and unloaded and I rushed in to see My now matronly Aloe Plant who soon would be with Child. Indeed, she was just glowing, as all mothers-to-be do. She'd never looked better. Of course, before that, I'd never known that she was a she. I still don't, but I was beaming with pride. We must have done something right, and all of that extra guilty water I had delivered, must have been well received. After all, she was eating for two.
I got  some extra decorative, extra guest hand towels to await the arrival of our new little guest. Because when an Aloe Plant's water Breaks, you need to "Be Prepared." And since I'm Italian, I wanted to do it in a decorative way.

Before long, the day indeed arrived, and the young sprout had made its way through the surface of it's over watered soil without even one contraction, becoming the newest member of the of the Ives Family greenhouse. As our kind Native friend had told us, we should wait until the babies are about  four or five inches tall, before separating them and placing them in pots of their own. And as predicted, there were additional babies to follow. There would be hiatuses, and then for some as yet unknown reason, and unknown time, more young ins' would break the surface, and the race was on. 

Transplanting them, at first was an anxious procedure. As our Aloe Mentor had told us,

  the roots wouldn't be that big, or many, but to have faith, and plant them, nonetheless.
We did. And we watched and we waited. Before long, we were gifting them proudly to those who came to visit.
And Before long I realized why the Mother kept shifting in it's new and improved transplanted pot: It was making room for its babies, and
despite my re-arranging it, so that it was centered in the pot,
 It knew something that I did not.
 It knew better,
 and as any loving mother will do, It was paving the way, making room for her brood, all the while knowing that 
their time would come.
 The time would come when they felt the urge to spread their roots wider than the family pot could offer. A time when they need to branch out on their own, and one day become mature enough to live near by, in a pot of their own, to raise Kids of their own.

Indeed, that's just what's happened. We now have three Monstrous Aloe plants, all mature, and all producing babies out of control. We've slowed down with our transplanting, because we're running out of pots, and people to give them to. They seemed to have matured a little sooner than their mother did. It's funny how life immitates nature. They have over taken the sun room and have crept into the family room and kitchen window sill, and most of the babies are ready to be repotted again and form their first flowers.
It never ends.

When I brought that lone Aloe plant home from the Acme that day, I had no idea that it would produce a family of its own, be a source of gift giving, and have such a story to tell. I had no idea that it would prepare for its young by shifting and re shifting in its pot to make room for their arrival. I just thought It would be neat to have a plant we could use as a first aid source. A source of pride, Sort of like growing and using your own herbs. A way to live simply as our ancestors did, by gratefully accepting what the earth provided.

But, that's not exactly how it happened. in fact, although we are now surrounded by Aloe plants, I don't remember ever using it to dress a burn, or fix a wound.
 But We're Prepared, should we ever need to. If a Volcano ever erupts in our neighborhood here in the suburbs of Philadelphia, We've gotcha' covered.

And By the By, our Living Room isn't a Living Room any more. We just weren't using it. Now it's a Pool Room. Which means we may have to put on an  addition--a guest room of sorts. You see,  I have a Christmas Cactus that's lost a few branches and I've got them rooting in a vase in the kitchen. I'll be planting them in soil soon. And you just never can tell with plants. 
We'd Better Be Prepared.

"Good, honest, hardheaded character is a function of the home.  If the proper seed is sown there and properly nourished for a few years, it will not be easy for that plant to be uprooted."                                                                           

 ~George A. Dorsey

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