It caught us by surprise that our 42-year-old avocado tree in the backyard gave in to the whirring and whipping of Typhoon Rolly. It had weathered many storms in the past and still it wouldn’t yield to the force of nature. It had dodged thunder and lightning, so to speak. It had even weathered the warmest of summers. Until it yielded to the storm’s outrage last Sunday.
The avocado tree slowly, gently fell to the ground. There was poetry as it bowed down. It exhibited grace. Even dignity. There was rhythm as it was being uprooted; the howling wind denied us of the sound of its last cry.
Its leaves became greener in heaven’s tears. Its trunk slept on the ground, heavy with nature’s outpouring. Its roots were pulled up, as if reaching for the sky. Several roots were adorned with seashells in grime. Long, sinewy roots pointed to the horizon, as if in gratitude for a life well lived, as if in salutation for a purpose well carried out.
In its wake are a thousand and one memories.
Kuya Gaddie was only nine when he found an avocado seed on his way home from the field. It was summertime, the perfect time to plant because according to our late father, a farmer, everything blooms in summertime.
My brother held on to the seed like it was a prized gem. He found a spot in front of our former house and buried the seed there, believing it would germinate and become a tree one day. It was a hope-against-hope stance because where he planted the seed was not conducive to growth. Under the ground were seashells mixed with the soil. That spot used to be a pen for ducks that fed on tulya (a kind of clam found in Laguna Lake) for the longest time.
In time, the seed grew to become a tree. But it didn’t mean the tree would bear fruit right away. “Be patient about seeing fruits,” Tatay told us in the vernacular. So, in effect, the avocado tree taught us patience. We let it be. The rain showers at the end of summer would be its indulgence. All things beautiful take time, they say. Our avocado tree was a testament to that.
After some 10 years, it bore fruit. There was excitement among us. We were all teenagers by that time. Kuya Gaddie burned dry leaves under the tree so the smoke would protect the fruits from the pests. The birds were our only competition for the harvest. But how much could they eat, we wondered?
Our father trained all of us to spot which fruit was ready for picking. “Yung may kakaibang sinag (The one that has a different shine),” Tatay would tell us. Kuya Gaddie was ready with a long, slender pole with a hook in the end. I would be right under the fruit he would pick, my palms open wide. It was almost a sin for me not to catch each fruit that would fall. I never missed one.
The fruits would then be put in the palabigasan (a container for uncooked rice) to ripen. They would lounge there for three to four days before they would be ready for eating.
There was almost a ritual when we ate avocados at home. The fruit would be cut in half then the flesh was scooped by a spoon all the way to a pusuelo (bowl). Our avocado had yellow-green flesh that was velvety. It was milky and had its own tad sweetness. Because we didn’t own a ref yet at that time, I would run to a sari-sari store to buy ice. I would bang the ice on a slab of rock. The crushed ice would join the medley. It would have been best if condensed milk were slathered on the bowl of avocado but even that was a luxury we had yet to afford. So, we settled for sugar. It was always a feast. We would have it all day long. Heaven.
For years we would experience heaven every summer with the bounty our avocado tree afforded us at home. We would give the neighbors some of our harvest.
One day, according to Nanay, an infanticipating young mother asked for a couple of fruits. From then on, the avocado tree yielded less and less. Napaglihihan daw.
But even with a leaner harvest, our avocado tree never failed to excite us every flowering time. We would watch the buds become fruits. We were always ready to spot the ones with “a different shine.”
Last Sunday, our avocado tree shone its last.
“Wala na akong susungkiting bunga kapag summer (There would be no more fruits to pluck during summer),” my younger brother Odick sighed as he trimmed the leaves of the felled tree. (I tried to consult with my forester friends from UP Los Baños about the possibility of replanting the tree back but I was told it would be impossible, given its age.)
“Sayang,” my eldest brother Ronnie succinctly put it. His lamentation reminded me of a homily I heard before. When people die, only two things can be said of him: “sayang” or “buti nga.” For our avocado tree – sayang talaga.
My youngest brother Rod was quiet as he inspected the scene of distraught. He touched the bark, the roots. His silence was deafening with gratitude.
Our mother clasped her hands as she watched her five sons gathered around the uprooted avocado tree. She, too, was quiet. The avocado tree was gone.
My niece Nikki, nervous and fidgety, captured on video the great fall of our avocado tree. Her sister Paula, who was sleeping from her duty in the hospital when it happened, was sad and stunned when she watched the video. So did their cousins Nikkelle, Alex and Gabby. Nikko, who works in Canada, called to check on us when he saw the video. The avocado tree extended its kindness and prosperity even to the third generation in our family.
Typhoon Rolly taught us that we would never the same after its passing. We mourn the devastation it brought to lives and properties in many parts of the country. Sayang.
But our avocado tree taught us about love — that it loved us even when it was foolish to grow on the soil that was not encouraging for growth. It cared for us even though it did not compel us to care for it many times. It just grew and bore fruits as it stood proudly and firmly for 42 years on the ground. Now that it is gone, we remember the dreams we dreamed under its shade. We remember the joy and plenty it provided us in our prolonged days of want.
Photo by Büm Tenorio Jr.