When my mother is upset, she bakes. Right now, both our freezers are swollen with muffins, scones, cakes and breads. And, because a holiday is approaching, add triangular Hamentashen leftover from Purim and unleavened desserts ready for Passover. My grandmother used to iron away her anxieties, flattening everything from boxer shorts to bed sheets. The beds in her house were taut, like sleeping between stretched sheets of cling wrap. My cousin exercises to distraction or injury, whichever comes first. My sister knits when she's worried. My aunt shops -- T.J. Maxx is her Mecca. As for me, I don't shop or bake or exercise. When I'm upset, I buy plants.
I usually buy on a whim: in the check-out line at the grocery store or on the sidewalk outside a hardware store. I see seed pods sprouting in those little ice-cube-like trays of peat and my interest is piqued: what will they be when they grow up?
When I'm seriously upset, I go to the nursery.
When I walk into a greenhouse I feel as if I'm being guided into the light; all the tension in my shoulders releases and my lungs expand, begging to be filled. At that moment, I am in the right place, on the right path. I wander along the aisles and monitor my own sensory responses. I touch delicate leaves with a fingertip or even a lip. Yes, I have been known to "kiss" the plants. I am the only person I know for whom the smell of dirt is erotic.
My own house is crowded with greenery. Nearly every space has been reconfigured to accommodate a plant: end tables, appliances, bookshelves and counters -- the plants own them all. There are plants in every corner, at every window. They stand three deep along the walls and cluster each pane of glass like lemmings overlooking the cliff. The avocado tree brushes the ceiling. On a low bench, Christmas cacti bloom in every color.
I repurpose all sorts of containers for my collections. The African violets are planted in colorful plastic buckets my children once used at the beach. Some still have the shovels attached. The Philodendron lives in a picnic basket lined in a 50-gallon leaf bag. The giant Staghead fern is flourishing in a water pitcher half filled with packing peanuts. I even have an Anthurium growing in a margarita glass.
I've employed several household tools and utensils as assistants. The shish-kabob skewers we received as a wedding gift are now soil aerators and the turkey baster is a handy siphon for excess water. The humidifier once reserved for the children now keeps my palm fronds shining and happy. My husband's old ties hang planters from curtain rods. The dog's old collar relieves weight from the tired stalks of a rubber tree.
I assembled a handicapped ramp at the back door to wheel the larger containers outside for seasonal showers, grooming, de-bugging and transplanting. In winter, I haul each plant into the bathtub for a monthly "tropical" soak. It's a big job. All these beautiful living things are counting on me.
I'll admit: it's a little crowded in here. A recent brunch at my house found a few guests lost behind the foliage. We reseated the guests, not the plants.
"When I'm upset, I buy plants," I explained to one of the guests. "It's been a hard few years," I said, as if noticing for the first time that the rooms were quite overwhelmed by the flora.
"I'll say," he murmured under his breath.
To some, I suppose I might seem crazy, like a lady who lives alone with too many cats. But that's okay with me. With my hands in the soil and my head in the fronds, I am beyond calm. I'm... happy.