I have introduced our readers to the members of my immediate family. I have introduced my wife, a source of inspiration in perpetual motion. The latest is that she feels I need to find myself a bike, and that I would probably really like triathlons. I've introduced my daughters, sharing memories of their childhoods, sometimes to their chagrin. We also have a cat and a dog, but they are rather recent additions to our family pod. I have, however, overlooked a 'roommate' that came into my life long before my pets, my children, and even my wife. Let me tell you about my fern, the indomitable ‘back to school’ purchase which has endured through my entire career.
At 4:00 am in late August, at the very beginning of my career, I drove into Fort St. James behind the wheel of a cube van. Inside the cargo area of the van was my newly purchased old furniture and every other possession I'd gathered to this point in my young life. The cube van was more empty than full. Leading my caravan of two vehicles was my younger brother, driving my new old car. It had been a long long drive from Port Coquitlam: we really should have left the coast well before lunch, and probably should have enjoyed a much shorter dinner break in Cache Creek. At least the cube van had a tape player, something the new old car didn't yet have installed.
As the sun began to brighten the eastern sky, this caravan of two pulled into the parking lot of the old walk-up apartment block on the hill which was to be my new home. Stepping out of the van and standing in the lot afforded a grand view of the massive Stuart Lake and the small town on its shore. There was no movement or sound; it literally seemed the entire community was still asleep. Sleep was something we were also desperate to enjoy so, without unpacking a single item from the van other than a pillow and a blanket, we climbed the stairs to the fourth floor, crossed the threshold of my new old suite, and crashed on the green shag carpet, asleep in minutes.
We woke a few hours later because that's what happens when the rising sun shines through windows without curtains. We really wanted some coffee, and my new (actually new) coffee pot was in the cube van. The van was unpacked rather quickly, a benefit of my sparse furnishings. After showers and caffeine, it was time to venture out into the city and find the grocery store: the fridge contained a pound of coffee grounds and an ice-cube tray, and we hadn't eaten since the Slim Jims from a Prince George gas station.
‘City’ is a generous description; ‘town’ is a better fit. We rounded a corner into the business sector and, before we realized it, had passed right through it! Most shops and amenities were collected into two blocks, with one grocery store on each. For this outing, we chose the large and familiar chain store where we could find groceries and maybe some last-minute back to school supplies.
By this time, the town had woken and many shoppers were moving through the aisles and filling their carts. My brother and I mirrored their patterns as we tried to shop like the responsible adults. That meant filling the cart with more than Pop-Tarts and Pizza Pockets. It was at the end of one aisle that I happened across the display of plants, plenty of them potted ferns. Grown-ups have plants; my apartment had all the essentials (only the essentials), but there was nothing growing and alive. So, I looked over the collection of pots and chose the one I thought looked the fullest and most healthy – the one which showed the most promise.
It was a spontaneous decision, and inconsequential; I never imagined it would result in a relationship that turned thirty-four this year.
We moved through the store, making our way to the check-out. One by one, we placed the items on the moving conveyor belt, and the young man in the store apron rang up the purchase – this was well before scanning! The final tally was the largest grocery bill I’d ever had to pay, probably because it was my first as a stand-alone adult. I asked if I could pay with a personal cheque, expecting to be told that cheques were not accepted. The cashier named Matthew took me in, awkwardly standing there, cradling my new plant, and said, “You’re the new teacher, aren’t you? Yeah, we’ll take your cheque.” I think the fern gave me away.
A few days later, the fern and I said farewell to my brother, and he left us alone to get comfortable with each other. And we did.
After we finally agreed upon fern’s living space, things really took off. It flourished and spread its fronds, selfishly taking up a lot of room in my life and demanding a lot of my attention. Beyond the watering, I had to feed it Jobe’s fertilizer spikes. I gave fern regular ‘cuts’, cleaning up the split-ends and air roots. Then there is the constant shedding of the crispy dried up little leaves. I’ve cleaned up constantly after fern. If opportunities arise for me, I must make arrangements for fern. And, sometimes, I’ve been irresponsible. I once left fern in the sun, which scorched; and I once left fern in the cold, which froze. Twice I decided that fern was rootbound. Twice, repotting reduced fern to a shadow of itself: three frail fronds, weak and intimidated. With patience, care, and attention, fern recovered and flourished once again. Fern has survived the arrivals of each family member, and the neglect each caused as my attention and love was drawn elsewhere.
And fern has been there every single morning as I left for work. Parents and siblings excluded, one could say fern has been the longest relationship of my life!
Well… next to teaching.