Earth Journal

 Vol. 10, No. 3
January 17 - 23, 2002 
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Miss Katherine’s Poinsettia
by Audrey Y. Scharmen

Here in the vestibule of my house, devoid now of holiday trappings, stands a poinsettia that followed me home, so to speak, during the Christmas season a year ago: It was a humble little grocery-store plant snatched off a shelf on my way to the checkout stand. It was an impulsive decision by one who had sworn not to be seduced ever again by big scarlet blossoms and a good buy. Those fickle flowers that promise so much, then simply collapse after the holiday.

But this one did not. This plant had some of the right stuff and it bloomed brazenly on through February. So instead of ending up on the compost heap, it was granted a stay on the window sill in the utility room with a straggly geranium and a browning aloe. They expired soon after, but the poinsettia remained green and lush even after it had dropped its flowers.

Spring came and the poinsettia was given a special corner of the patio that overlooks the creek. There it was replanted in a large container with caladiums and alyssum for company, and it settled happily in for the summer and grew tall and full-figured. It spent August alone while I vacationed elsewhere and a kind neighbor tended it sporadically. The plant was undemanding and congenial.

When winter threatened, the caladiums wilted. The poinsettia had grown so large I hadn’t the heart to abandon it to the elements; thus it was moved inside to a corner of the garage where a row of windows provided excellent diffused light all day. It seemed not to mind the unlovely surroundings amid years of clutter. Poinsettias, after all, are from hardy stock. I have seen them in riotous bloom in brown yards of poor Mexican villages in winter, where they and the chickens provided the only color in a barren landscape. And in arid southern California, where I once lived, they sometimes grew in thick hedges.

As the poinsettia approached her second Christmas I saw that the tips of the limbs were tinged with red; and the hue grew deeper and spread each day to other leaves. It was going to bloom for me, and as Christmas Eve grew near it did indeed develop six perfectly respectable flowers.

I recalled my beloved second grade teacher who actually had owned a real poinsettia back in the ’30s. It was as tall as I and my classmates, and the first any of us had seen. She was Miss Katherine Lund, pretty and willowy and red-headed as her flower, which she brought to share with us in a gloomy classroom of the two-storied red brick schoolhouse on a bleak Kansas prairie. There it languished all through the winter, a miracle of scarlet blossoms, the most exotic we could imagine. We worshipped it like a cult of small dryads. It bloomed on through Valentine Day, its red flowers outstanding amid white paper doilies and frosted window and snowy vistas beyond.

So here again is just such a poinsettia in the making: Miss Katherine, incarnate, come to restore my faith in the promises of things beautiful.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly