Thursday, January 04, 2007


I like to think that Granny Cookson’s Christmas cactus will be blooming later in the 21st century, and on into the 22nd century, and possibly even the 23rd.  This is a reasonable expectation if you think of its descendents as being part of the original cactus that used to hang in Granny’s back porch.  Already there are quite a few known descendents blooming regularly in various houses.  But wouldn’t it be nice if, in the 22nd, or even the 23rd century, there would be somebody who could tell their friends and relatives that the cactus with the lovely orange blooms was a descendent of one that used to hang in granny Cookson’s back porch?  It could happen, but it will present a bit of a challenge.  It will require some storytelling across generations.  If we want to make it happen, we will have to be a little more conscientious about telling stories. 


Granny Cookson (born Elsie Renshaw, Cheshire England, 1898) had a big back porch with windows facing north, south and east.  The porch was cool and bright.  In the 1970’s it was home to a huge hanging Christmas cactus (official name Schlumbergera) that sported hundreds of fancy orange blossoms.  It drew admiration from everyone who saw it.  Their praise made Granny blossom with pride, the way she did when people admired her grandchildren. 


Thirty years ago she visited my house, noticed my plants, and gave me a slip off her cactus that she had rooted in a quart sealer.  Nobody knows how Granny got her cactus and I do not know what happened to it later.  But my cactus will always be Granny’s cactus to me, an instant and constant reminder of a woman who was central in my early life. 


Granny Cookson was 54 years old when I was born.  She and Granddad shared a farmyard with us.  They lived in the two-storey house their parents had helped them build at the start of their marriage.  In 1968 they picked up the house and moved it 17 miles, setting it down on a lot in the town of Sedgewick, keeping all the windows facing the direction they had faced on the farm.   She was short, the shortest adult I knew.  Granny liked to garden, a passion I later acquired, and to knit, a skill that eludes me to this day.  She fed me shortbread and scones, chocolate cake and custard, trifle at Christmas, coffee in the mornings, tea in the afternoons.  She taught me simple songs. 


Go and get the apples

Go and get the apples

Go and get the apples

As you have done before.


I will get the apples

I will get the apples, etc.


She played games with me: Bingo, Sorry, Racko, Crazy Eights, Chinese Checkers, and Whist.  When she was alone she read True Confession, True Story, True Romance.  To me she read letters from Aunty Mabel, articles from the newspaper, toy descriptions from the Eaton’s catalogue, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and a large number of short and long books for children.  It pleased her that I was born on the day after her wedding anniversary, and also that I got married on her birthday.  She had diabetes for a long, long time.  She wore aprons every day.  She started wearing slacks when she was 70 years old.  She loved to buy things, new furniture, shoes, vacuum cleaners, presents.  She grew broad beans and cooked terrible-smelling fish.  She carried hard white mints in her purse and gave them out generously at church.  She kept a stock of candy in the drawer by her bed in the nursing home and offered that candy to my children.


She would be 108 if she were alive today.  I have the wicker trunk she brought from England, some little gold dishes she used to use at Christmas, an old rocker she never sat on in my lifetime (it slopes too far forward), and an enormous cactus rooted from a slip of hers.  Over the years I have rooted slips from my plant for my mother, my sisters, my daughter, and various admirers who asked for cuttings when they saw it in full bloom.


My plant doesn’t flower much any more.  It needs new loose soil, needs a larger pot.  It needs to hang in the middle of a room because it is so broad.  Last night I took a cutting and put it in a glass of water. In a few weeks it will have roots of its own.  I will give it a place of honour, bright light, cool nights.  And I will say good-bye to the old plant, but not to my memories of Granny.

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