My Tin Can Flowerpot

A memory comes to mind.

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ILLUSTRATIONS BY RUSSELL THORNTON

Now that I’m 90 years old, my mind is full of memories—jumbled together from my early childhood to this very morning. Sometimes I can choose what I want to recall; other times a word or sight, even an odor, can bring back something from long ago. My mind is like a liquid filled with floating strips of paper, like the ones in Chinese fortune cookies. Each strip contains a word or two, code for a particular memory. As a strip floats to the surface, so does the memory. Here is one example:

On a Spring day, one of my daughters and I are shopping for plants for the deck of my husband’s and my retirement home apartment. I’m looking at flowerpots when suddenly…

I was in the small Nebraska town where I grew up, back in sixth grade. It’s November, and our teacher has told the class that there is supposed to be a hard freeze that night. By the time school was dismissed, the cold wind was swirling dried leaves all around, and clouds were dark in the sky. I ran home as fast as I could—I wanted to save a tiny plant I had seen a few days earlier. The plant was growing on an island in the midst of a dried-up old lily pond in our backyard. It was my favorite reading spot. That’s how I’d found this last remnant of Summer.

I’m looking at flowerpots when…

Quickly changing my dress (girls always wore dresses to school in the 1930s) for an old pair of slacks, I ran outside to see if the little plant was surviving. It looked OK, so I went back inside to ask Mother if I could have an empty flowerpot. She said she didn’t have any more; she’d filled the ones she had with her houseplants. Besides, she said there really wasn’t any point trying to keep a tiny outdoor plant growing in the house. Even if it lived, it might just be a weed. My balloon of enthusiasm collapsed.

Daddy saw my disappointment and suggested that maybe Mother could find a substitute flowerpot. Mother spotted an empty tin can that she had tossed into the garbage. Maybe that would do. My excitement was back! Daddy brought his hammer and a nail and punched holes in the bottom of the can for drainage. Maybe the little plant would be saved after all!

A few weeks lat-er, the plant developed several green, bubble-like things. Mother told me the bubbles were flower buds. I had saved a flower, not a weed! Each day I could see that the buds were growing. The plant was now almost a foot tall. I turned it some every day to keep it growing straight. Finally the buds opened into lemon-yellow blossoms! They were so sunny and bright they seemed to light up the whole room! I remembered Mother had had the same flowers growing in her garden that past summer. A seed must’ve found its way to my reading island. I also remembered how the blossoms from her plants could be squeezed just right and a “mouth“ would open. This fun feature gave the flower its name: snapdragon. What a joy it was to see those flowers in my own tin can flowerpot!

What? My goodness. My daughter is calling me.

“What’s that, dear? What would I like to grow on the deck?

“Oh. I know just the thing.“


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