Tom let my sniping pass, one way we’ve learned to sustain our 25-year marriage. Another is making sacrifices: large ones like moving for a spouse’s job and small ones like doing a dirty chore to make a partner happy. But my anxiety remained.
As I drove, Tom described a story he had read that morning about Willie Nelson. When he mentioned the singer’s name, something clicked.
“I’m sorry,” I said, interrupting him, “but I have to tell you this.” And out tumbled a waterfall of unexpected words, Tom’s country music chatter tying the staghorn fern to memories from my adolescent years in Birmingham.
Like my husband, my mother loved plants. She grew up poor, got pregnant with me, and, after my father took off, did her best to make a life for us on a secretary’s salary. When I was a teenager, we lived in a roach infested, ticky-tacky apartment in a rough part of town. But we might as well have lived in a garden.
My mother filled the apartment with philodendron and spider plant, ficus and fern. They grew in terra-cotta pots surrounding the furniture, hung from the ceiling in elaborate macramé, twisted through lattice and guard rail on the balcony. My mother’s prized plant, displayed like a portrait above our dining room table, was a staghorn fern.
“Dining room” is a fancy term for the alcove next to our kitchen, like “table” is fancy for the dump-scrounged picnic table where, on weeknights, we ate our meals and, on weekends, my mother and her friends gathered to smoke, drink and sing country songs.