Hug a Cactus

The winter doldrums have certainly set in. Grandma Peggy has the flu, the days are short, the weather is questionable, and I have the blahs. I don’t chose to have the blahs, they just come. When I get this way, I look at my cactus collection. It is not a huge collection, but I’m willing to bet that it is the largest one in Frankfort.

Why do I look at the cactus? For one thing, they are beautiful plants. How can a spiny thing like a stag horn cactus be beautiful? I see all life as beautiful.  Even a blah day has a beauty about it. All I have to do is to switch my mindset to anticipation of a bright sunny day, and life is good. The cacti give me an outlet to vent my frustrations. At times, when I get upset with someone, I tell them to go hug a cactus, and if I get very upset I’ll tell them to go kiss a cactus.

Cacti grow in extremely harsh environments and they are hardy survivors. They live without water for months, sometimes years. A cactus can withstand high temperatures, and suppress predation with their spines. Like all living things, they do succumb.

My cacti are not treated to a life of high temperatures, but do get treated harshly. In the winter, I bring them indoors and place them in a low light environment. Occasionally, I sprinkle them with a few drops of water.  When the temperature outside is above freezing, I move them into the garden.  I place them strategically between the perennials to add interest, and confusion. How confusion? Have you ever walked a perennial garden in the Mid-West to spot a desert plant nestled among the traditional plant life?

During the summer, my cacti are stressed, not by the heat but by the large amount of water they get. In the desert, light, heat, and water add up to procreation by  flowering. Nature compensates the gross stems and the spiny foliage with brilliant beautiful flowers. I have only had luck with one of my plants. It flowers every year, but the others have not. Obviously, my basement and yard do not yield the correct conditions to promote flowering. That is one problem to challenge the blahs.  I look forward to learning what it takes to get them to flower as beautiful as they do in the desert.

Here are some of my critters, and some real desert cactus in bloom.

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Maggie, Where Are You?

Grumpa Joe Looks at FlowerReading the Sunday Tribune this weekend I came across columnist Mary Schmich’s request for leads. She is looking for material about people and happenings on the Chicago lakefront. I figure  she will be overwhelmed by input, including mine. My lead goes like this:

Two years ago Peggy and I were invited to take an evening skyline cruise off the shore of Lake Michigan. A good friend was entertaining a group of his clients. The boat was out of Burnham Harbor. i.e. the one behind Soldiers Field,  just north of Mc Cormick Place.  Since I had never driven there before, Peggy and I left early to leave plenty of search time. I know that if I miss a crucial turnoff on the outer drive, it would take a long time to recover. As it happened, I hit the correct turn and got to the harbor in record time. We were forty five minutes early. The parking situation confused me, so I left the car running in front of the Harbor Master’s building to ask for instructions. I was met outside the door by an eccentric looking elderly lady holding a cup of coffee.  The lady asked if I needed help. Before I could tell her what I needed, she was explaining the best place to park and the best place to wait for the group. Her demeanor was absolutely pleasant. She looked to be in her late seventies, about five feet tall, and thin, very thin. Under a captain’s cap, her hair was light blond turning white. She wore baggy pink cotton pants, and a lime green windbreaker. Her skin very tanned and wrinkled. My first sight of her gave the impression that she was homeless, quite the contrary, Peggy and I learned later, she was not homeless.  I thanked her for the directions then dropped Peggy at the Harbor Master’s building and parked the car. It was June, but the evening was cool. The wind blew in off the lake  from the Northeast and the water was choppy. Usually the breakwater protects the harbor from choppy waves, but this evening it was choppy. The water beyond the breakwater was sporting four foot waves with white caps.

By the time I returned, Peggy and the lady whose name is Margaret or “Maggie” as she preferred to be called were chatting away as though they had known each other for years. It doesn’t take Peggy long to make a friend, especially one whose name is Margaret. Peggy will always ask a lady whose name is Margaret if she is a Peggy or a Maggie? It seems Irish women named Margaret are never called Margaret, only  Maggie, Peggy, or Margie.

In the twenty minutes we waited for the remainder of our party to arrive, we learned much about Maggie. She was a widow, who continued to live on a boat during the summer just as she and her husband did before. When she tired of the boat, she took a cab, a few miles north, to her lakeside condominium on Sheridan Road. She and her deceased husband had used the boat for many years. I envisioned  her to be a real beauty in her youth. I imagined her strutting the deck of the boat in a bikini, sporting a tan to die for. Although age had taken its toll, she was still stunning.  Peggy and I liked her instantly, her friendliness, and desire to help a stranger was impressive. Her stories about her husband and their exploits on the boat were fun too

Peggy and I visit downtown Chicago often. Every time we pass the harbor we look for the boat and wonder if Maggie is still sporting the flashy colors and the captain’s cap looking for people to befriend. We are often tempted to park in that harbor to look for her. We wonder if she would remember us as well as we remember her. I for one would love to hear her tell the stories of her youth when she and her husband took boating adventures. 

Eventually, we boarded our boat for the cruise. The drill was to cruise along the Chicago skyline at night. There was a buffet and drinks too. As I said earlier, the water was choppy, and the boat was rocking and rolling as we cruised the shoreline just outside the breakwater. The wind made the temperature feel colder. No one wanted to stay on deck, so everyone crowded into the warm cabin holding on to anything they could. Walking inside was difficult with all the movement. Peggy, just sat in one place and turned green. She was sea sick and not having a good time. She could not wait to get off.  I sat next to a man named Ted from Ted’s Greenhouse in Tinley Park. He told fascinating stories about his business, and his cactus collection. The cruise finished by ten and by the time we got home it was midnight. Peggy and I talked about Maggie the whole ride home. Peggy couldn’t, nor wouldn’t discuss the cruise.