Life Life

29/07/2019 - 09:10

Mother’s green garden

I came back to my mother. The garden was now missing my father’s care, but still there were the peach trees that he planted, blossoming every spring.

Illustrated image. Photo: Ngoc Ha

There were trees reaching their branches over the walls, onto the road. During the summer days, my mother and sister would pick the peach leaves to make natural aromatic shampoo. When I saw the plate of mango fruit, I suddenly gasped, “Oh! This is from the mango tree dad planted!” This mango tree was the memory between my mother and father.

One of my father’s students brought a big mango from the South as a gift for him. My mother took that mango seed and planted it in the ground. The mango tree grew tall next to the soursop tree. In that first season, it gave sweet and slightly sour fruits. 

My mother said that in total there were 45 mangos. That morning, she picked the next to last one, so there was only one fruit left on the tree. I immediately went out to the garden and took pictures for keepsake. Suddenly I missed my father so much…

There was also a guava tree next to the well. It had been there for over a decade. The tree trunk was broken but from a branch, another tree had grown. When I was a child, my siblings and I had the duty of taking mud from the river to cover up the guava tree root. The largest peach tree was located right in the front path leading to the house. This tree had been with my father for ages, and had been with my siblings and I since we were school children.

My mother picked from the garden a variety of vegetables. She said that every morning, there would be plenty for vegetables to cook with the instant noodles or vermicelli. I saw young sewer vines (paederia) sprouting. I picked the young sprouts rising in the early morning sun along with the Ming aralia leaves (polyscias fruticose) and the shisho leaves to prepare with the instant noodles.

I loved the aluminum bowls, the carp-shaped porcelain plate that had survived decades. I adored the jars left from my grandmother’s time. I liked the yellowing cracked set of tea cups sitting next to the foot of the bed. Even more precious were two stone rice mills, one small and one still in the corner of the yard, evoking memories of a then much more difficult time.

Back then, my mother cycled to a distant market to sell 100 kilos of rice. My siblings and I would cycle to meet her every day after coming home from school. My father, once a week, would ride the bicycle up to 15km to buy sweet potatoes for breakfast and to add to the rice pot for lunch and dinner.  Sweet potato and taro would be cooked together in one large pot with some salt.

The scorching days were arduous enough, but it was even worse on those pouring days, when the roads were slippery and the thin layers of clothes could not stop the winter winds. My heart ached for my mother.

But we would mill rice during the summer when my mother had her summer break from teaching. After having lunch and a little rest, we would begin to pour rice into the mill and take turn pushing the rolling mill in a circle. With manual rice milling, there was still a lot of brown rice left over. So, the next step was to put the rice into a large mortar. The brown rice would be pounded and sifted. To get white rice, the bran must then be cleaned off.

The bran was used as feed for chicken and pigs. At mid-afternoon, my mother would ride her bicycle to the market to sell rice to buy some food. With the broken rice, my mother would cook before going to sleep. She would put the pot in the kitchen ash. In the morning, the congee would be very thick and extremely delicious in those hard days.

Returning to the countryside, I sat at the door and looked at the two rice mills in the front garden where the old scenery appeared like a movie. The cottage had walls made from mud and straws and the floor was also made from mud taken from the village’s river. The floor became flat over time and was cool to lie on during the hot summer days.

My mother said that those two rice mills were memories so she would never sell them. I drew water from the well to wash them. The memories clinging of dust suddenly appeared vivid and bright like the magical sun rays shining on my parents’ garden. 

By Nhuy Nguyen

 

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