Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Misters Happy

You all remember Mr. Happy. Mr. Happy with his gigantic eight-foot pink spike of flowers that lasted for months and months? That Mr. Happy. He was from down south but we planted him as a tiny rosette in 2014 anticipating the flower spike in 2015 if we could just keep him alive over the winter. Californians prefer things a little hotter than we like them here. But Dave wrapped Mr. Happy in plastic and added a light bulb and saw him through the coldest days and sure enough he lived long enough to erect a towering pink spike with impressive staying power. And that was that. Mr. Happy is a two-year plant.

But! Last spring I had a look around and found all these tiny little rosettes that I didn't recognize at first; especially in the pepper garden that Mr. Happy towered over. They all had a distinctive rash of speckles that didn't clear up. Mr. Happy! He'd gone all Charlotte's-Web on us. There were dozens at first, then hundreds of Mr. Happies all over the place.

Sure enough Echiums like Mr. Happy are self-fertile, so there is no reason to introduce a Mrs. Happy, and what he'd done all summer long was play with himself and spray his seeds all over everything. I weeded out most of his kids last summer but still had a few dozen placed hither and yon, and I hoped for a mild winter. A giant pink spike of flowers is startling enough in Portland: an army of them would pin people's ears back and cause sensitive souls to fan themselves and make for the fainting couch.

But now it's December, and it's been cold. They're starting to look right sulky. I fret about them. I bring them up in conversation a lot. "Mister Happies" never sounded right. I've started referring to them as "The Misters Happy."

That's old-timey. My spinster great-aunts Gertrude and Caroline, who lived together and both to an overripe age of about a hundred and forty, always used stationery printed with "The Misses Brewster." Neither of them married. They both graduated Smith College and taught English, and then they retired and sat around in straight-backed chairs and waited to die. Every year we would get a fruitcake from The Misses Brewster, wrapped in foil, or maybe it was a plum pudding; it was dark and ponderous and antique-looking and dense as a black hole and it was accompanied by something called Hard Sauce, which is not especially hard. It was pretty tasty, but if you ate too much at once you'd want to take to your bed with a spot of laudanum. My father told us that Aunt Caroline was the one who made the thing, wrapped it up, addressed the box, slathered it with stamps, hitched up the mule, and saw it to the post office, and Aunt Gertrude took the credit.

Aunt Gertrude was the elder of the two. That's the sort of thing that should make more of a difference when you're four and two than when you're 104 and 102, but apparently it didn't. Dad also told us Aunt Caroline had once found a man she wanted to marry, but he was Jewish, and the family did not approve. So she never wed, and she instead looked after her older sister until she finally quit waking up, and then she died herself.

The Misters Happy are not going to live to a hundred. They're looking at two at the outside, but that's okay with them. They don't know beans about fruitcake, but if everything works out right, they'll be spraying seed from spring to fall, and they don't mind if you watch.

33 comments:

  1. Aw! I'm glad that Mr. Happy lives on in his progeny. I hope that they all make it and bloom this summer, so that you can have a forest of Misters Happy to shock people with their beauty. People seem to have become have become shock-proof when it comes to ugliness. Beauty, however, will totally gobsmack them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Looking good enough so far, but now they're forecasting temps in the teens for a week! They're goners! Unless Dave wants to hook up a couple dozen light bulbs again.

      Delete
    2. The bulb you used last time is currently in service warming my hummingbird feeder. I think I'll just strew boughs and leaves and mulch and hope for the best.

      Delete
  2. I'm happy that Mr Happy was so prolific and hope the Junior Happy's all survive the winter. I think you should keep enough to form a hedge and watch people's amazement at the hedge of tall pink spikes eventually.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Are you sure that's not a triffid? If the seeds disperse so prolifically, there are probably already colonies beyond your own property line, ready to spread even further. You may have inadvertently facilitated an invasion. Our best defense is probably black-hole fruitcakes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aaaaaa! Nobody expects the Black-Hole Fruitcake!

      Delete
  4. Ooooh, send me some Mr. Happy seeds through the mail! And Dave keeps him alive with the just the light of a bulb for warmth? What if Mr. Happy is all wrapped up in plastic, and it comes in contact with the light bulbs and melts and eventually catches fire? I imagine it would look a bit like the Buddhist monks who sometimes self-immolate. But I'm sure that you and Dave have already pondered that scenario?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They don't really sometimes self-immolate. Usually only the once.

      Delete
    2. Remember that Peanuts strip where Snoopy is typing away at his novel? "It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out." Lucy comes by and tells him it's a stupid story, and he needs to start over. He thinks. "Gradually, a shot rang out."

      Delete
  5. Would some kind of covering (say, evergreen branches or burlap) keep them warm enough?

    Or is this a test for Dave?

    That fruitcake sounds delicious. I'm one of those people on the "like" side when it comes to that annual baked offering. (And are those your aunts on the far left of the picture?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are. And a great-uncle and my grandfather. Dour-looking crew. I think Gertrude is the one sitting tallest.

      Delete
  6. I am interested in baby Happies if there are any around... just sayin......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll bet there are some seeds still lying dormant. I can pot you up one if it turns out to be true.

      Delete
  7. Not a fan of fruit cake. My mother, being British, always produced Christmas Pudding and Mince Pie - accompanied by Hard Sauce. I hated the Pudding and the Pie, but boy did I love that Hard Sauce.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too! I'll have to ask my sister if this was a fruitcake or a plum pudding.

      Delete
  8. There is never enough Happyness in this world. I hope yours thrive. And like River I would love to see a Happy Hedge.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Happy New Year to Mr. Happy & his family!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Here's to never retiring then sitting in straight-backed chairs waiting to die. Even thought that is totally funny, I think time would dampen the humor.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember questioning Dad when I was young as to why Aunt Carol and Aunt Gertrude were waiting to die, and he said "apparently they don't know how to do it."

      Delete
  11. We grew up with Claxton brand fruitcakes, and they were an extreme variety of the door-stopper type.My secret to liking fruitcake is to eat it in paper-thin slices, sort of like Fruitcake Carpaccio. As far as the Hard Sauce, I could put that on anything and be happy....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I loved it too. My taste for sweets has waned over the years, which is handy, since I'm avoiding wheat, and it's kind of in everything sweet.

      Delete
  12. I had to Google 'hard sauce' as I'd never heard of it. Just couldn't think what it could possibly refer to. Ah, white sauce, then! Which, admittedly, is not much of an improvement in the descriptive stakes, but that probably doesn't matter if one is looking for an excuse to ladle yet more alcohol into a pudding. I'm wondering if there may have been another side to those aunts of yours which might explain their longevity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No! White sauce is cream sauce with a roux and milk! Okay I'll just bet all these sauces have tons of names. Because I do NOT generally ladle alcohol into my white sauces...not that it's the worst idea.

      Delete
    2. Hard sauce is a sweet, rich, dessert sauce made by beating butter and sugar with rum or brandy and vanilla, (some people use whisky), it is served cold over a hot Christmas pudding, the heat allowing it to melt and become 'saucy'

      Delete
    3. Maybe that's what specialed it up for me, because we surely did not customarily get to have things like rum or brandy.

      Delete
  13. Wow, I hadn't thought about hard sauce in many years. Must come up with a new use for it. I try to avoid wheat, too, but maybe it would be good on pears, or baked apples, or, you know, meatloaf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Or Other Sauce. (Says she, sipping away at the neighbor's egg nog.)

      Delete