I enjoy reading memoirs because they are short stories based on memories. The powerful thing I find with memories is that once triggered by the slightest picture, smell, taste or feel, they all come rushing back. And then, even if they are only isolated in your mind, you are somehow back in time, reliving those moments.
Well, the other day, my friends and I were talking about how avocados actually grow on trees, and I remembered this memoir I wrote for a class once, and I would like to share it with you. It’s all about a little girl, a stubborn avocado tree and learning a life lesson.
Here is Part I
Summer afternoons in tropical Philippines are always stagnantly humid and scorching hot. It seems like the sun enjoys punishing us poor souls for living in the equatorial region. At least that was what it felt like one summer afternoon before I started fifth grade.
While I was rapidly losing water and wits, the flowers were in full bloom and the Bermuda grass that carpeted our garden was a healthy green. Even the mango and guava trees bore fruit in the dehydrating weather. This was all thanks to my mother and her magical green thumb. But Mama herself was not pleased at all. She was a perfectionist, you see, and the ever fruitless avocado tree was a huge wart in her garden. She tried to fix the problem that day, and she placed me in charge to execute the plan. I was finally given the chance. The middle-child, who always wanted the same trust the oldest gets and the attention the youngest receives, was finally going to shine. It was about damn time. But the only problem was, I did not shine; I burned instead.
Our veranda was failing in its secondary purpose of making the place cooler. I was hopelessly swaying back and forth on the rocking chair to generate some breeze for myself. But the to and fro feat only gave out warm, muggy air, and a squeaky noise. And I had enough of it. Frustrated and consequently bored, I walked over to my seven-year-old brother who was digging up the soil with his Batmobile.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Burying The Joker. He just died. Batman killed him,” he said, in a matter-of-fact way.
“Do you want me to get a flower for him?” I inquired, wanting to be of some use to the ongoing ceremony.
My brother nodded, and so I walked over to the rose bush. I saw my mom looking up at the avocado tree just beside the roses, and heard her threaten it, “It’s been three summers already. All you do is stand there and grow leaves and flowers, but no fruit. Should I have you taken down?” Then she gave the poor tree “the look.” Oh no, I thought. When you get Mama’s signature razor-sharp glare, you clearly did something wrong and there is no escaping punishment. I walked up to her and asked what was happening. She said she was going to smoke the tree in a few minutes.
“Smoke? Why?” I inquired, curious.
“I called your Lolo, and he told me that we should smoke it. Smoke helps the flowers become fruits,” she answered, scouting the tree’s white flowers.
My grandfather was a skillful gardener so everyone in the family trusted him when it came to plant problems like this one. Mama explained the plan – she needed to build a bonfire of dead leaves, twigs and branches at the foot of the avocado tree so that the smoke could rise up and envelop the leaves and the flowers. The idea was adventurous, so I asked her if my brother and I could help. Mama hesitated for a moment, but ultimately agreed.
“But you’re in charge,” she warned.
I nodded gleefully, and asked if I could snatch off one rose.
“Just one, and not from the bunch that’s still blooming,” she said.
I quickly grabbed a rose and skipped my way back to my brother. I waved the rose at him, and set it down where the funeral mound was. “Rest in peace, Joker,” I declared.
My brother and I now had to make the bonfire. Since it was a general gardening afternoon, there were already raked triangular mounds of dead leaves and twigs all over the garden, so we just needed to transport each mound to the avocado tree. When we had set up two fat piles of dead organic materials by the trunk, Mama came over with a pail of water and started to ignite one of the mounds.
“Okay, Det, if the bonfire is running out, add three handfuls to it from the other mound. Don’t put too much at once though because it would create flames rather than smoke. And we only want smoke, not flames. If the bonfire gives off flames, sprinkle a little water over it to kill them off,” she instructed thoroughly.
“I got it, Ma. Don’t worry,” I smiled at her.
“Good. Well, I’m going back inside to get ready for dinner. When you finish, put the entire bonfire out with the water, and come back inside,” she said.
I nodded again.
“And take care of your brother, and watch out for the roses!” she exclaimed as she walked away from us.
“I will! Oh, I want spaghetti for dinner!” I yelled back.
And then it was just my brother and me. For some time, we just sat there cross-legged on the Bermuda grass looking after the smoke. Then we finally got bored, so we each picked up a wooden stick and became sword fighters. We fought around the garden – zigzagging our way through the two Indian trees, Clunk! clashing our swords by the bougainvillea, Thwack! and circling around the bonfire, Crack! We were enjoying the act so much that we got caught up in it. My brother and I decided that smoke in the background was cool, but fiery flames would be more awesome. We grinned at each other mischievously.
“Wait! But Mama told you only smoke,” he hesitated.
“Don’t worry. A few small flames are not that bad. Plus, I’ll kill them off after,” I reasoned.
“Fine,” he gave in. “Flames would be so cool!”