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.