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Plant Biology

You thought aloe was already about love.

I’ve had an aloe plant “in the kitchen” for about as long
as I’ve owned a can opener. And not an aloe plant
in the generic, like a bicycle, or a can opener. This one.
 
When I moved out of the dorm into an apartment of my
own off campus, my mom supplied me with a plant of hers.
A spider plant may have been given me as well.
It obviously succumbed to neglect,
but the aloe plant yielded its leaves
when I needed them, and so I was forced to think
to water it on occasion. I kept it on the counter so
I wouldn’t have to go too far, perilously, with water.
 
My mom informed me that every kitchen needed
an aloe plant as a primary remedy “for burns,”
a stove’s secondary function I knew being to burn
unschooled children. I didn’t conceive of getting close enough
to cooking to worry about it. On the other hand, by experience
I knew that sun-burned skin healed right up when rubbed with
the gooey interior side of an aloe leaf. When retailers caught on
and offered 100% aloe in bottles, the application became more
convenient, but didn’t work nearly the magic. The ointment caked and your skin later felt taut.
 
So this aloe plant followed me as I graduated, and when I moved across the country and back. I confess I wouldn’t feel so sentimental about it had it not acquired a nostalgic auditory track. I hear it every time I give the plant a thought. The voice was a former girlfriend’s, I don’t remember which, who in a sweet concerned tone had remarked on it.

The aloe plant had just survived a long transport, and perhaps due to the vibrations, had become grey. It began the journey in ill-health from my usual inattentiveness, so perhaps it had not survived actually, because it was colorless and looking completely limp.

“Poor little aloe plant” my girlfriend said with great concern. “You should just throw it away.”

“Throw it away?!” I was baffled by the incongruity of her affection.

I relented, but somehow the little plant lingered in a purgatory of other flotsam. I can remember a period when it wasn’t rooted at all, but lay upon the soil, mysteriously surviving, like a zucchini on its side, resisting my half-hearted attempts to position it upright. They were less my attempts, than those of my better halves, or their mothers, or my mother, paying quiet visits. Eventually the plant got back its green, and lived to be replanted and thwart my irregular droughts.

Some time ago, when keeping separate households kept me from seeing, let alone appreciating, my little plant, my mom asked if she could take it into her care. She brought it back into her menagerie to nurture to its present glory. When Mom died, she left more than fifty plants and my father had to ensure all would be provided for. Mom’s gardening friends took custody of most, and when Dad asked me if I wanted any, out of habit I asked for the aloe. Upon delivery, I recognized my old friend.

Now I have to tell you, I feel a little adulterous to conceal the nostalgia which my little plant invokes. It brings back the sweet voice, and voices, of those who have cared for it, and for me, over the years. Souvenirs of loves past, like an old sweater, or a book, might be dead giveaways as mementos, but who would suspect this little plant? And who could not?

2 thoughts on “Plant Biology

  1. Aloe is ultimately about healing, isn’t it?

    I hope the plant can become for you something other than an allegory for your love life!

  2. Eric, i think this is a great article, and i never thought an Aloe plant could bring such memories. I have used Aloe directly from the plant and i have to agree that is works MUCH better then the stuff in the bottle…. How long has that Aloe plant been around?

    ~Bryn

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