I loved my grandpa and my grandpa loved me. I always knew this.
He was affectionate, patient, and a consummate source of strength and security. When I was little, I was on his lap any chance I got. Once settled in, I would twirl the agate ring he wore on his wedding ring finger around and around and around. He never once told me, “that’s enough now,” like grown-ups tell kids when they’re wearing down their last nerve.
In 2010, he passed away and it hit me about as hard as I knew it would. Even though his health had been deteriorating, there was no preparation for his passing.
When I returned back to work after the funeral, a co-worker gave me a plant with a condolence card. It was one of those office plants that doesn’t seem to need much light, water, or attention to live, which was perfect because my office had no windows. And I am not a plant person.
But there was something about that plant. For some reason, I felt a responsibility to keep it alive because it had been given to me to honor my grandpa. So I watered it as often as I remembered to---which wasn’t all that often. In spite of the halfassed watering schedule, the windowless office, and my general lack of interest in plants, it still lived.
When I moved offices a year and a half later, I finally transplanted it out of its sad foil-covered flower shop planter and into a cheerful celery green decorative pot. I had no idea what I was doing -- I had never transplanted a plant before. Somehow, it survived its clumsy rehoming.
Obviously content it its new digs, it grew well beyond the point of thriving. Its creeping vines started taking over my office. So, I cut off a slip, dropped it into a glass of water, and patiently waited weeks for it to sprout roots. When it looked like it had a steady new set of roots, I planted it, waited for it to settle in and start growing new leaves, then discarded the rest so I could start it over again. (I say this like I just knew how to do this. In reality, I googled it, interrogated green-thumb co-workers, then googled it again.)
Remember, I’m not a plant person.
I did all of this because it was my “grandpa plant.”
When I moved home to work, my plant came with me. I put it on a table in the kitchen where I could see it all the time. It was next to a couple of other plants my husband lovingly tends to. He makes sure they get just the right amount of water at just the right time and rotates them so they get even sun. Things that don’t even occur to me to do.
As my “grandpa plant” thrived in its new space, it began to overcrowd the others with long spindly vines that really had nowhere to go, but kept growing anyway. Still, we moved it around and cared for it because, well, you know. Grandpa plant.
These things I did for ten years.
The other day, out of nowhere, it occurred to me. I don’t even like the plant.
Ten years ago, in a moment of grief, I had tied his memory to the plant, and assigned myself as caretaker, as if keeping the plant alive would also keep his memory alive.
But the plant doesn’t remind me of him at all.
As this realization washed over me, I began to think about him. Sitting on his lap, holding his hands, and twirling his agate ring.
The same agate ring I keep in my jewelry box.
So I unwound its invasive creeping vines from the well-behaved plants next to it and passed it on to someone who will appreciate it for the plant it is, because that's all it is.
That plant is not my grandpa.