It was nine years ago that I took it home.
My mother had died on St George’s Day, but we kept the house much as it was for the summer, and it was only in September that we prepared it for renting out. It was a strange moment, as it was the house I was raised in, and therefore the prism through which all my childhood memories were viewed. Fact, fiction and fable merged together to provide the received wisdom of what I now believe was my childhood.
It was one of the last things there, and we couldn’t bear to get rid of it. We discovered that, when you clear a house, you tend to start with the most valuable stuff and work downwards, so that all that is left at the end are the mis-matching pieces of chipped crockery, the out-of-date sauces and pickles and, well, the pot plants.
The money plant had been at the top of the stairs for as long as I could remember, out-dating even the barograph that my father was given by his colleagues in the late seventies. Every five years or so, my mother would re-pot it until, by the time she was in her last days, it was almost as big as the furniture around it.
‘So long as we keep it alive,’ she used to tell us when we were small, ‘we will have money. If we let it die, we will lose it all.’
As a means of making children take a proprietorial interest in a god-forsaken pot plant it was hard to top, and I can remember on frequent occasions laying the flat of my hand on top of the soil in the giant pot to make sure that it wasn’t going to suddenly dry out on us. When leaves fell off, as they did both regularly and, due to their weight, quite spectacularly, I used to panic until I saw that it was just the plant’s internal house-keeping. For about five years for a reason that I can’t fathom, even now, I would keep the fallen leaves in an old Portuguese bowl in my bedroom, their succulent flesh rotting down until they were just twisted olive green twigs. Even when I left home, the bowl stayed there on my dressing table.
After I took the giant plant to my new house, it sat in the roadside window getting ever bigger, and ever more pot-bound. From time to time, children would run past it and knock it over, and I would sit them down and tell them about the money running out.
‘Yeah right!’ they would say. ‘As if!’
And yet, like me all those years ago, they would take a tiny bit of interest in its welfare, as it lived out its life in a dark corner of the house.
Then they left home, too, just like I had, and one day, I noticed that the money plant was dying, its root system finally strangled by the relative smallness of the pot it lived in. I kept pretending that it wasn’t happening and Caroline, whose love for the plant was not in the same order as mine, kept telling me that I would need to transplant it if I wanted it to see beyond Christmas.
And then one Saturday morning, I did. I took, the plant outside, broke the pot, ad removed four of the healthiest looking twigs, before putting them into some rooting compost, and leaving them by the outside tap, where I forgot all about them.
Until this morning, when I needed to wash my hands after clearing the tomato bed, and the French bean tripods. There they were, healthy cuttings sprouting up out of their little pots, and ready for the next phase, whatever that might be. For someone with the fingers of death as far as pot plants are concerned, it is little short of a triumph.
One is already back where its parent was, looking tiny and insignificant, but so much healthier than what had preceded it. Two will probably end up in the compost heap, once I know that the main one is OK.
But the last will go back down to the old house and will live, according to the new owners, as close to the top of the old stairs as the new layout will allow.
Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.