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Eulogy for an Avocado Tree

My first winter here, it wasn’t the snow that got me. In fact, I was a tad disappointed. Since my understanding of a northern winter came largely from news broadcasts, and those broadcasts showed only major blizzards, that’s what I expected. Daily. We did have some significant snow storms that year, but live in igloos we did not. Rather, it was the darkness.

I wasn’t used to Daylight Savings Time and changing clocks. Where I grew up, the difference in daylight from summer to winter was about an hour, if that. But here, in my new home… wow. By the time February came, those dark, grey days sapped my soul. I’m not kidding. It was a fight not to be glum. March was dark, gloomy, and cold. And then in April, it snowed. I stood at the window, watching it come down and I cried. Throughout all the dreariness, sooty snow, cloudy days, and mud, it was the growing green things in my home that helped me cope the most.

That December, my in-laws were headed out of state for a while. Because they’re smart. My MIL loves starting plants. She’s always got some little sprout growing, usually from seeds she’s saved from yesterday’s fruit salad. She has her faves to grow, and avocados are one of them. She had a few other houseplants, too, and she’d asked if I wouldn’t mind taking care of them while she was gone. Sure, I told her. I thought indoor plants were cool, but they weren’t my thing. I stopped by to pick them up and get instructions on their care and feeding. Among them was this spindly, goofy looking thing with huge leaves.

“That’s an avocado.” I said. I didn’t know much about houseplants. But I did know avocados. We have a past together.

 

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(Cue cheesy music…)

Back in ’98 I spent some time visiting family in southern Mexico. At one point we went to visit my uncle’s village, up in the mountains. Coffee plants, avocados, bird of paradise- it all grows outside his childhood home. Now, he’s a pretty fun guy. (Never play cards with him. He cheats.) Like most natives, he’s got a shorter build, and he had a pansa (belly).

He strapped this basket/net thing to his head, shimmied up a tree and picked some avocados. How the heck, I don’t even know. But that dude was lightning fast.

“You want to try?” he said, once back on the ground.

Pppshht. I can do that.  “Yeah!”

I strapped on the head thing. There’s really no other way to describe it. However, I can tell you that your neck structure should be reinforced with rebar in order to support it. Especially when it’s loaded with fruit. Mine was empty. I opted to sling it over my shoulder and jumped onto the tree trunk, just like my Uncle had done. And then… I didn’t move. I couldn’t. Clearly, I was not the native. (I took voice lessons as a kid, okay?)

By some great miracle I found a branch, and pulled my wimpy, non-climbing self further up. I was in! I’m sure they all enjoyed watching me struggle. We’re family. We do that kind of thing for each other.

Since I was finally standing in the tree, I was able to climb bit easier. However, all the fruit was still out of reach. Moving a bit further out, I got a close-up view of some leaves that hung right at eye level. And then I fell.

Yep. Out of the tree.

Somewhere along my descent, my shirt snagged on a branch, pulling it up over my head. (I have a scar ‘neath “the girls” to prove it. No, I don’t have pictures.) My arms were stuck over my head. My uncle, laughed so hard he bent over – which is good because I landed on him.

They since named the tree after me.

Yes, I know avocados.

 

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So, when my MIL asked if I wanted the little guy, I wasn’t sure what to say. She told me she started it just to see if it would grow, and now she didn’t know what to do with it. She didn’t intend to keep it, but it was a foot tall by this time. She felt bad just throwing it away. I live in Dutch country, and when in Dutch country, do as they do. In other words, don’t turn down freebies.

Through that first dark winter, I nurtured those plants. I learned everything I could about them. I collected books, read articles, and took notes. I fell in love with the life they exuded; a contrast to the icy hibernation that permeated the outside world. Since then, I’ve amassed a good-sized collection of my own.

Some have gone. Some have multiplied. But that avocado tree stayed with me. It grew seven feet tall, with elegant branches and those trademark huge emerald leaves.

Its pot was crumbling, and I knew it needed to be transplanted. There was a good chance it would succumb to shock, but I had no choice. It did not handle the change well at all, no matter what I did. Last night, we said good bye. It’s gone.

Papaya seeds are now buried in its place. We’ll see if I have my mother-in-law’s knack for starting them. I do have another avocado- at over 2 feet, this one started by my mother. But this guy’s gonna be my favorite for a long time.

 

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~m

 

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