Local Dispatch: Blooms of amaryllis appear intertwined with family history

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The amaryllis bloomed again today, May 7, 2013, and I breathed a sigh of relief about this amazing flower.

In the spring of 1981, I was working for U.S. Steel and received a promotion to be the plant controller at a chemical plant in Neal, W.Va. My wife and I relocated from the Pittsburgh area and purchased a home in Catlettsburg, Ky.

At the time of the transfer my wife was seven months pregnant. Her doctor would not permit her to travel, so I was on my own to purchase a house without her even seeing it. Fortunately for me, I made the right choice and she fell in love with the home.

Our daughter Erin was born on April 27, and we moved on Memorial Day weekend. Our parents and other relatives gave us a hand with moving and baby-sitting. They brought us some Pittsburgh staples that we were unable to find at the local Piggly Wiggly, including Isaly's chipped ham, Klondikes and Wise potato chips.

Aunt Marion and Uncle Walt also gave us a house-warming present. It was an amaryllis bulb neatly packed in a 2-inch-by-4-inch container with instructions for its care and how to get it to bloom. A few days later, I opened the package, read the instructions and made an attempt to get the amaryllis started.

Within three weeks there were two leaves and a long stem about 12 inches in length with a flower bulb on top. A few days later the single flower was in bloom. The flower was pink and white and very attractive.

Unfortunately, it only stayed in full bloom for a couple of days. I was ready to toss the bulb and say it was a nice thought. For some reason, I paused and re-read the directions on care and decided to see if I still had my green thumb.

The instructions said to cut the stalk and plant it in a sunny area outside and then bring it inside for the winter before the first hard frost. I did as instructed and pulled the amaryllis from the basement the following spring and started watering the bulb. About four weeks later, lo and behold, the flower appeared.

In the spring of 1983, the plant produced two flowers. Erin, now in her terrible twos, was deathly afraid of this 14-inch stalk. She would not go near the plant. The following spring, April 29, 1984, our son Brendan was born.

In 1985 we were transferred back to the Pittsburgh area and the amaryllis moved with us as well. When I went to plant it outside, the 2-by-4 inch container was a little tight so it was moved to a quart container. In the spring of 1986 the amaryllis had two stems with three blooms.

I continued this process every year, occasionally transplanting it to a larger container. As the bulb had more room to grow, the number of stalks continued to increase and additional bulbs promulgated. The amaryllis now resides in a container that is 32 inches in diameter and 14 inches high.

In 2007 we moved from Carnegie to Collier, and the amaryllis made this move as well. It is no longer easily planted in the ground, so after the blooms fade it resides in a pot in front of our home, where on more than one occasion a passing neighbor compliments the amazing amaryllis.

Over the years the number of blooms seemed to be a predictor of a number of happy family events that occurred for the Baine, Flaherty and Nelson families. Last spring the amaryllis had 14 flowers, an all-time record. In 2013, our son and three other family members will be getting married and three nephews will become new fathers and one niece will become a new mom. A preliminary look at the blooms today indicated last year's record will be shattered, as I counted 21 blooms emerging.

You may ask why I breathed a sigh of relief when the amaryllis bloomed. In the 32-year history of the amaryllis, it has only failed to bloom twice. In 1995, there were no blooms and Uncle Walt passed away that October. In 1997, the amaryllis also failed to bloom and my mom, Jean Nelson, passed away in August.

So there is a good chance that no one close to the Baine, Flaherty and Nelson families will be called from our presence this year. Hopefully in 2014, there will instead be several more additions to our families based on record blooms.

garden - intelligencer

Jim Nelson of Collier, director of operations for the Peer Support and Advocacy Network, can be reached at jnelson2002@comcast.net. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to page2@post-gazette.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein can be reached at 412-263-1255.


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