As far as overnight vigils go, this one was by far the easiest.
It was seeing the Christ in a manger open. That’s an orchid-cactus houseplant also known as night-blooming cereus.
I’ve always heard about these magical plants, but I never realized I had one – until this week. It had come from one of my gardening friends at a plant swap, very possibly Juanita Bowling of Irisburg, and looking back now I’m pretty sure she must have told me it was Christ in a manger. But I’ve had it for so many years with nothing happening that I had plumb forgotten.
The plant is mostly flat, wide, paddle-like “leaves” and sometimes several of those long, skinny, green stems before their paddle-expansion. Sometimes the plant is spindly, and sometimes it takes one by surprise by suddenly seeming much too big for the pot it’s in.
Our Christ in a manger lives on a stand in the hall in winter and on a porch in summer.
When we got home from work and school Wednesday, there was a surprise — a white and pink blossom about the size of an egg, jutting out from the jumble of plants on the porch shelves. Although I never had seen a Christ in a manger, I’d heard so much about it that I knew immediately that’s what it was.
The inside petals were surrounded by a glorious tangle of slim, pink tentacles-looking curves. The fragrance was a perfume.
We checked the flower regularly and took pictures at every half-hour. We could see it open a little more each time.
At 8 p.m., we decided to finish out our evening on the porch. Well – I decided to do it. My daughter was free to do what she wanted, which, apparently, was to sit with Mama and complain about how boring it is to sit around waiting for a flower to bloom.
It would be a long hour before bedtime.
Yet as that hour went on, the grumbles gradually gave way to curiosity. She began setting aside what she was doing and leaning over to get good looks at the blossoms from her position on the cushioned settee. I remained seated on the step next to the plant, the dog lumbering around me, occasionally clumsily bumping into the precious flower.
When we put our faces close to the flower and looked intently, we felt we actually could see the opening happen. It was so gradual, though, that it felt like a trick of the mind. Yet if we looked away then looked back, it was definably different than before.
At bedtime, not even she wanted to abandon our post. She fretted over wanting to go to sleep but also not wanting to miss the miracle. We settled on staying on the settee, where she lay across my lap, trying to sleep but occasionally checking the flower’s progress.
I was imagining the note to the teacher the next morning: “Please excuse Mary for being exhausted and cranky today. She stayed up all night long to watch a flower bloom.”
At 9:20 p.m., it hit me so clearly I felt like a fool: Just take the plant up to the bedroom.
We decided to sleep in the same room, and we sat the plant on a dresser where it would be easily in view. Each of our pairs of glasses was in easy reach. Every now and then we would put on the glasses, aim a flashlight toward the flower and look.
Suddenly – deep in slumber in the dark of night – I was awoken by a frantic call.
“Mama! Mama! Did we miss it?” my daughter exclaimed anxiously.
We got out of bed, turned on the light and walked to the plant. It was well open, cheerful and elegant and sophisticated and glorious, its perfume filling the air.
When we got up at 5:30 a.m., we looked over at the limp, closed flower just hanging dejectedly.
“Oh, no, did we miss it?” my daughter asked, disappointed.
“No. Remember you woke me up in the middle of the night and we stood and looked at it?”
“Oh yeah,” she said, a wide grin spreading across her face.
Holly Kozelsky is a writer for the Martinsville Bulletin; contact her at 276-638-8801 ext. 243.