the gardenia tale

My father's devotion to my mother is a wonder to behold. Four times a year, he and I engage in overly-complex, clandestine gift-obtaining operations, desperate not to repeat ourselves. Valentine's, Mother's Day, Birthday & Christmas - the ritual is almost as important as the gift itself, whatever it may be. Sometimes he asks. Sometimes I ask. This is part of the subterfuge. Mom will tell us something simple, practical, or both. That will be my present, because it's usually the cheapest as well. Then we'll come up with something nicer or more extravagant and that will be from him, because he pays for it. Half the time it's my idea, half the time it's his. It works well. We're a good double act and all the secrecy lets us fulfill that yearning every guy has to be a secret agent.

This past Mother's Day, mom told dad she wanted a gardenia. Aside from the fact it was a plant, dad and I were pretty clueless. But we found a nice garden supply shop, ordered a couple and they went down a storm. Mom really liked them. She really liked the surreptitious surprise present as well, I'm sure. But the gardenias were lovely. Even I liked them. They smelled amazing. For 5 years I tasted & judged wines, mentioning 'heady floral notes' on the nose and now admit that until I'd smelled these gardenias, I knew naught of 'heady floral notes'. It was like Turkish Delight but without the sickly confection. Like smelling a real, ripe strawberry having only ever had McDonald's strawberry milkshakes beforehand.

I took special interest in these gardenias. They need quite a bit of attention and they don't like the cold. My only experiences with plants involved putting up Christmas trees and a couple of bonsai trees I was given when I was 11 or 12. Bonsais were the coolest plants ever in the late eighties. The shallowness of the decade allowed a tradition thousands of years old to be grasped as a fad by the ignorant. I was one of the ignorant. Too young to make a fashion statement with my dwarf trees, instead I used them as dramatic scenery when playing with my Star Wars and GI Joe toys. My mother refused to get one with a water feature, probably for the best. I didn't take good care of them and they died. They deserved better. So did the gardenias.

The hectic travel schedule at the beginning of the summer, combined with the drought and hosepipe ban, spelled their doom. One looked mummified, the vibrant green of the leaves replaced with terminal brown and grey, a single touch enough to bring the whole lot into an autumnal pile at the base of its pot. The other fared little better; some green remained but, like the lawn, it was mostly scorched, the healthy patches looking the aberration rather than the norm. They looked pathetic. Mom said one was beyond help and we considered chucking them both out.

I said no, I wanted to nurse them both back to health. So we pruned all the dead stuff off to salvage the healthy and let it grow. Pruning is a harsh art. Anything dead must go, even if the living still clings to it. What remains looks more dead than what you began with. The pathetic twigs breaking through the soil look like someone planted kindling. You've only got faith that whetever's left behind can grow back. It's optimism at its best, but most brutal.

Yesterday I found a half dozen tiny green bulbs emerging on those pathetic twigs.

Pruning my CV has been more difficult. Untended for over 3 years, dead leaves and dry twigs abound. High School education is no longer important when you're 30. Dead leaves & dry twigs, it must go, though fond, vibrant memories cling to it. University, the most defining years of my life, gets put to the bottom of the pot - it provided the growth but is no longer part of the foliage. It's fertiliser. First jobs, bartending and building, essential to nostalgia, their menial aspects badges of pride and proof of proper labour, are no longer relevant, memories of a decade ago - pruning shears at the ready. The agonies and tortures of terrible jobs must be snipped, leaving only the upsides and lessons learned to thrive unhindered. Things I felt defined me, as I was, lie at the bottom of the pot.

The twigs are all that's left.

But they're about to sprout.