Twenty-three years ago, when I started working at HarperCollins (as Holly McGhee) I was given a plant by one of my first bosses, William Shinker. The plant was a dinner-plate Ming Aurelia, and it represented a new beginning to me—I’d left a job that didn’t challenge me anymore, fallen in love with James Marshall’s Old Mother Hubbard and her Wonderful Dog, and dived into children’s books, with no experience whatsoever—I was facing a big unknown.
The plant had five stalks, each one about a foot tall, and I set it next to me on the desk. Slowly but surely the leaves began to turn yellow and die, and the stalks went next, until I was down to just one survivor. At this point I was very attached to the plant, and I was worried; it had begun to represent my future—and I refused to let that last stalk die as it sat there next to me. So I asked my cousin Linda Yang, a gardening expert, for help. She came to my office and she pulled the florist’s mulch off the top, and she said the plant needed air, the mulch was suffocating it. Then she took a fork and started digging around through the soil, aerating it.
Not too long later, her job done, she packed up her things and left. Over the next month, my surviving stalk began to grow and thrive. I don’t know if it missed the other four stalks it had shared the pot with, but I know it was happy to be alive. And my Ming is still happy to be alive, having moved to larger pots many times over the years.
She is a survivor, and I still like to wash her leaves with milk water and aerate her soil. My Ming is older by far than my oldest child; and she is a living, breathing reminder of how fragile life is and how important it is to show the ones we love that we love them.
That’s what Christmastime is for me, a time to remember those we love and honor them with gifts; a time to think about those who have been along on the journey, for the light parts and the dark parts—a time to remember those we’ve lost and those we’ve nearly lost, and to cherish those who are with us.
M E R R Y C H R I S T M A S!