Brother surprised me this summer with plant snips from one that was Mom’s last in the nursing home. She watered it with leftover coffee, cream and sugar and the thing still outlived her.
He’d already named her Emma, same as our mother.
Unknowingly, months before, I had scored the perfect stand for it—an uncanny sibling telepathy that happens between us—and he gave a simple, knowing nod when I unnecessarily explained wanting something green in that corner but had yet to find the hardy, sunshine-loving plant with the perfect drape.
This is it, I thought when he opened one of his old cigar boxes (also mine to keep) to reveal the eight cuttings he had soaked in water for three days to coax roots from before traveling three thousand miles for the installation. My slow smile mirrored his and I went to fetch a bag of soil.
We told “Mom” stories as he filled the girly polka-dotted turquoise teapot planter halfway with soil, and then tenderly kneaded each of the cuttings into place in a way that felt like a blessing. Live, live, live. He watered and waited, adding more dirt and thumbing each one down a little more, maybe nesting them in for life.
I was hypnotized by my brother’s hands, almost twice the size of mine. Calluses and silver rings. Those strong football-throwing, deck-building, boxing hands that have always had a firm sense of first-born duty. His whole-hearted devotion to potting Emma made my heart swell.
My trance was broken when I heard him prattling off instructions for pinching it back or eventually training it to crawl the wall and I stared at him like he was speaking Martian, until he said, “Just call me. I’ll talk you through it.”
He always had the green thumb, coaxing life from seeds, pruning and doing triage on plants on the brink. Droopy flowers perk up at the sight of him. I have been the opposite of that except with succulents, spider varieties and a glossy nine-year old bush-like plant in the living room that has its own will. That he trusted me with Emma at all filled me with wonder, and while I was initially honored by the responsibility of keeping my mother’s namesake alive, the fear crept in. Until I remembered that she watered it with leftover coffee, cream and sugar, so I may have a shot.