The Cactus Patch
Volume 14       January 2011      Number 01

A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

27 relatives descended on Bakersfield for Thanksgiving. From the north they came from Greenville, San Francisco and Sacramento. From the south only La Mirada was represented. On the evening of the 24th the early arrivers ate at Que Pasa and then proceeded to Lora’s house for dessert. Next morning a larger group had breakfast at Anne’s, complete with menu to choose from. The big feast was at Alice’s with Polly as chief chef. We added three boards to the dining table, moved in the breakfast table and unfolded two card tables to fit everyone. At least Thanksgiving lacks the chaos of gifts etc. which comes with Christmas!

Next day we went to CALM and paid for our entrance with pecans from Alice’s trees. Our grandson Michael had a great time with his cousin Elijah who is only a year younger. I teased him by saying the Bald Eagle wasn’t bald because its head has feathers. I said it was just an American Fish Eagle (the African Fish Eagle looks the same to me!). Michael rounded the corner of the cage and exclaimed, “Grampa, you’re right.” There in the food dish were some fish waiting to be eaten! The desert garden looks neglected (including some barely surviving Bakersfield Cactus) and the other area marked Bakersfield Cactus had only one puny plant. We had a late lunch at El Patron in EB.

After the crowd had left, Polly, Anne and I went to see the play “Having Our Say” on the 28th. It is the story of two black women who lived to be over 100 and saw many changes. During much of the play they chopped food for a birthday celebration to remember their parents. It reminded me of a play we saw at the Grahamstown Festival in South Africa, the difference being that there we got to eat the food. (According to the Californian, some of the Bakersfield audience also got to eat, but we didn’t see this.)

On the 2nd of December we went to the Fresno Succulent potluck and ate too much. They had great decorations, including Sam, an inflated Saguaro. They wisely did away with the gift exchange and only had a silent auction. I didn’t get anything, but Polly came home with a welcome mat with two saguaros dressed in lights.

Polly and I sang Christmas songs eleven times with the Goldenaires, ending on the 17th of Dec. at the Bethany Lutheran Church. Some places had meals and others snacks. Again, it was too much food. Interestingly, one of the songs we sang was Away in a Manger with two tunes combined. Polly told the director there was a third tune, but we couldn’t remember it. Finally on the last week of performance she found it on line, and then found it was in the Lutheran Hymnbook at our last performance!

On the 14th, of course, we were at the Bakersfield potluck. Yet again we ate too much. I especially liked Polly’s Sandy Desert Dessert. The sand was made from crumbled Golden Oreos which I’d not seen before. It seems to me they should have chocolate filling! I collected a Euphorbia avismontana from the silent auction, but feel bad about it because I was out bid and then given it as a “Christmas Present”. Perhaps I should go back to 1966 to explain what this plant means to me.

After a year in the Peace Corps in Malawi, Polly and I decided to tour southern Africa during the school holiday in August. Among many other stops we took the train to Upington in South Africa to see the succulents there. We had written to the town council and were met by a chauffeured car and asked what we wanted to see. When I said, “Lithops”, they asked, “What are they?” I pointed to a town council poster and said, “It’s the flower on top there.” Despite a trip to the local library, they were unable to locate any!

We toured the industries of the town (dried fruit and cotton), but the only thing which impressed us was the Karakul lamb industry. The lambs are killed before they lose their curly birth hair to produce skins which were then popular. I’d never heard of them before. At any rate, we were much more pleased with a drive out to Aughrabie Falls (now a national Park) where there were euphorbias, aloes and milkweeds. I collected a number of plants including Euphorbia avismontana. Back in Upington the hotel kindly wrapped them in newspaper and tied them into a bundle which we carried by train, plane and bus through Bechuanaland (now Botswana) and Zambia to the border at Chitipa, Malawi where we lived.

At the border they searched carefully. Polly and the other women were taken to a tent for a pat down. The Indian men had to unroll their turbans. Oddly when they came to me, all they asked was, “What’s in the parcel?” When I answered, “Plants”, they then went on to harass others. I could have had anything! (Let alone, I had no permit for the plants!) I planted the succulents in front of our house, but when the rains came, they turned to mush. Malawi is much wetter than the Karoo! I’m glad to have a replacement at long last, and will try to keep it drier.

Alice, Elijah and Michael

Michael & Eagle

Bruce & Sam

Polly & desert dessert

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