Life Life

01/02/2022 - 08:11

Our house has flowers

My mother assisted my father, trying to arrange a few thin apricot branches into an old vase. She lightly sighed and added, “I wonder if we would have any flowers on the New Year's days...”

It was an afternoon in the late 1980s. I still remember the thin figures of my mother and father under the dim light in the apartment. Back then, Tet was still a feeling of longing and anticipation. There was something very luxurious about the printed cakes wrapped in red and blue plastic paper, the aroma from the batch of my mother’s thuan cakes, the batch of ginger jam that had just turned sticky, and the bottles of orange wine and lemon wine that my father solemnly put on the cabinet. After everything, all have passed, only the question of my mother lingers until now.

My father did not have much money, but his eyes were always brimming with melancholy. Every year, on the 30th, he would stand still and watch the florists clean up the potted plants. There were times when his eyes were warm even when he only brought home a bunch of marigolds. But I could clearly remember that first New Year's morning in 1980, my father's voice was so happy when he told my mother about the apricot flowers that had just bloomed.

I remember my father standing for a long time under the apricot tree in front of the door when going to my grandfather's house. I was not old enough to grasp his deep longing when he told me how this yellow apricot tree was here even before he went to the North to fight. Back then, my grandmother was still healthy. Her home-cooked dishes were so fragrant and delicious…

Perhaps because I am my father’s daughter, I also often bring flowers home on the nostalgic last afternoon of the year. My mother no longer asks when we will have flowers anymore ever since she came to live with me, her youngest daughter, in a new place. Every morning and afternoon, she would take care of some golden dewdrops and banana flowers on the fence.

There was one year when our only yellow apricot tree got sick. Its leaves were old and yellow and the tree began to shrivel up. Whenever I came home, I would see my mother hovering over the tree, digging the soil, adding organic fertilizers, watering, and talking to it like she was talking to a friend. Thanks to my mother, or perhaps thanks to my husband's effort to save the tree, the yellow apricot tree survived and thrived again.

My husband also brought home a luxuriant apricot branch bought from Nam Giao Esplanade on the last afternoon of the year. Then, he cheerfully placed it in a hundred-year-old vase gifted by our neighbor a long time ago. The appearance of the apricot tree warmed and scented the whole living room.

In January, when we saw off the branches, the family members came back to me and told me that it was too painful to look at. So, our family never bought apricot branches again. From empathizing with the seller, we turned to grieve for the tree.  

Knowing that my friend "locates" Hoang Mai by Google, and in the coming seasons, he would still not have the opportunity to visit in person, I have talked a lot about Hue yellow apricots with my own feelings, on an early spring day. I don't know how much he heard and remembered, but I followed along and sketched it all with the memory of the thin apricot branches that first appeared for my house to have flowers.

I talked about the gentle floral scent, and how one must be completely at ease to be able to sense it. And sometimes, by walking slowly through the peaceful houses, passersby seem to be able to enjoy the taste of tea through the steam. What is even more elegant is the yellow apricot-color ao dai looming behind the brown wooden frame.

I told my friend about the yellow apricot trees on the banks of the Huong River, a characteristic feature of Hue when entering the city center. I did not know if he could imagine the delicate, fluttering petals, but his promise to return one day in spring made my yellow apricot tree anxiously eager.  

My grandmother's garden now has more houses. The fruit-laden lucuma trees of the past have become a memory. My grandma's yellow apricot tree has also been moved to another place because soon, there will be a bridge from the north bank reaching this place. Change is inevitable, but there will always be a pleasing aftertaste when we change and know how to change. I just hope to remember its color and qualities when thinking about the yellow apricot tree...

My father never had the opportunity to plant in the soil a yellow apricot tree of his own. My sadness when thinking about this partially subsides when I think about my father's love for everyone and the love of his children and grandchildren for him every time they gather. What he gave to life was simplicity and warmth, so that we could grow up on our own.

After the days of picking leaves will be the days of waiting for the golden blossoms. I know that Hue has flowers and my house has flowers, and no matter how extreme the weather, the yellow apricot is still the subject of Hue every arrival of spring. The petals and the color of the young green leaves are not just a fluttering low note but they have become a quiet, soothing and peaceful symphony...

Story: Hoang Mai

Photo: NQ

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