Dishes and Dieffenbachia

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“Dishes and Dieffenbachia,” Ensign, Sept. 1998, 28

Dishes and Dieffenbachia

The bride seemed devastated about the damage to my beautiful dieffenbachia. Then I remembered those broken dishes I had held in my hands so long ago.

As a young wife having her first dinner party, I wanted everything to be perfect. My sweet mother-in-law helped by lending me her nicest dishes.

The next morning I carefully packed the dishes between towels and placed them in a large dishpan. As I stepped outside that winter day in Star Valley, Wyoming, my feet slipped on some ice. Desperately I clung to the pan, but I stumbled, and the dishes bounced upward. I heard sickening crunches. Lifting the towels, I was horrified to see many of the dishes chipped or cracked.

Sobbing, I drove to the home of my husband’s parents. Mom Haderlie met me with an alarmed expression. “What has happened? Are you all right?” As I wailed my story, her expression softened. She sighed, gently patted my arm, and said, “Oh, I was afraid something bad had happened.”

“But, Mom, these are your good dishes. I’ll pay for them or get you some others.”

“No, you won’t, my dear. That isn’t the way it works.” She calmed me, and I dried my tears. She smiled. “One day someone will need your understanding, and you’ll know just how they feel.”

My mother-in-law’s words have come back to me many times over the years. As our children came along, there was often a need to overlook a spilled glass of milk or a special dish that had slipped from tiny hands. There was even a time when I was vacuuming and noticed several pieces of “ice” on the carpet, then found that my lovely crystal dolphin from Italy was missing. After tears for my broken treasure, my heart ached for my most priceless treasure, the child who had broken this “dish.”

Recently, a young woman at church asked if anyone might be willing to loan some plants for decoration to help a young couple save money on their wedding reception. I was glad to lend her my prettiest plants, including a favorite, my Dieffenbachia, which grew to the ceiling every few years and then was cut back, with the sections that were removed being used to form other plants for gifts.

I wasn’t home when the plants were returned. I was dismayed when I saw the Dieffenbachia. All the leaves were withered, hanging flat against the cane. The embarrassed young groom had explained to my husband that the tall plant had been forgotten in the back of his car and had sat in the hot sun all day.

Sadly I cut off all the withered leaves, leaving only the cane. I set it in a corner, unable to bear throwing out my pet plant.

The next Sunday at church, the young bride came to me in the foyer, apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry. I’ll pay you for it or get you another one,” she said, and I remembered my own words to Mom Haderlie.

“No, you won’t,” I replied firmly.

The young woman looked alarmed.

I shared with her my broken-dishes experience of 44 years earlier, and added: “You’ll need to forgive someone’s mistake somewhere down the road; then you’ll remember the plant.”

She smiled gratefully.

I continued to water the lone cane of my Dieffenbachia, not wanting to give up on it, and one day I noticed with delight a leaf beginning to form. Now it has three, and I smile every time I see it. Like my lesson from Mom Haderlie, it is a source of continuing growth.

Illustrated by Jerry Thompson