The Mahogany Tree

Under the big gray mahogany tree, I would rest my head in her lap. It was a ritual for me; to have my ears cleaned with a fowl feather, preferable the feather from a pullet.

Grandma would strip the feather leaving only some on the tip. She would base it with her spit and gently insert it into my ear. Oh! What a ticklish, wonderful feeling—it was my comfort.

Grandma smoked her Jamaican cigar in dramatic style. She would bite it’s tip so she could get a smooth draw. She would loosen it up by gently rolling it into her palms and then she would light it with firewood, throw back her head, put the lighted end into her mouth and puff and puff and puff. I was amazed that the lighted end did not burn the upper roof of her mouth. I tried it once when she wasn’t around and scorched my tongue.

I loved to sit under the big mahogany tree on it’s exposed roots, especially when the sun was going down in the long distance sky while the steady currents of the wind washed my face with the tropical breeze. The sky would look frightfully red and the clouds would look like dark-brown boulder rocks just about to fall and crush our wooden house. Sometimes the clouds would slowly change and look like camels traveling across the Sahara.

It was my favorite place to sit, especially when Grandma sat with me and our neighbors would pass by, smile and shake their heads sentimentally because we were a sight for sore eyes. Sometimes in the afternoon when the 12 o’clock sun penetrates the leave of trees, the mahogany tree would become the umbrella for all kinds of birds. It was the favorite spot for the Banana Quit and Ground Dove—two birds Grandma considered angelic.

From where we sat we could see the main road where all colors of cars zoomed by. The sounds they made reminded me of mosquitoes buzzing around my ears. I would sometimes sit there with my eyes closed and daydream on the day I grow big and zoom by in my black shiny car with Grandma in the back puffing away on her Jamaican cigar.

I would say to her, “Don’t worry Grandma, relax, I am driving Miss Daisy today.”

Grandma would often bless herself whenever she saw a fast car. She would say, “Please don’t let these young ones die.” She would put her soft hands on my head and gently massage it and then she would say to me, “Youth and age will never agree.”

Under the mahogany tree when the sun turned brilliantly red, like a ball of fire in a sky filled with moving clouds, Grandma would tell me her trials and tribulations, hopes and dreams, her joys and disappointments and her wish for my future. She would say things like, “Where there is nothing to lose is nothing to fear” and “When a man is going down the hill, everyone will give him a push” or “You cannot get blood out of stone”.

Grandma passed away on the day the hurricane came. The wicked wind uprooted the mahogany tree and the flooded river washed it all the way down to the sea. The hurricane destroyed my joy. It left me empty, lost and confused. It took Grandma away to some far away place. It changed my entire life—the mahogany tree was gone. I suppose it and Grandma were in the same place and she was probably sitting on its exposed root smoking her Cuban cigar and thinking of me. I could hear her now warning me, especially to do the right things…

“Yes, Grandma.”
“’Remember what I say ‘bout you education?”
“Remind me again, Grandma.”
“Boy, sometimes I tink, what I say to you just go straight through one ear an’ come through the next.”
“Not really Grandma.”
“Then how come you don’t remember I told you, knowledge is power?”
“I remember!”
“You remember what I say ‘bout words?”
“Yes, Grandma.”
“ Kind words are worth much and cost little.”
“ Liars should have good memories.”
“A bird?”
“The early bird catches the worm.”
“Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”
“That’s my favorite, Grandma.”
“Zeal without knowledge is a runaway horse.”
“Tell me someting.” Grandma said with a serious look on her face. Her lips were pouted. Her eyes were staring at me deeply fixed and her jaws were sucked in like when she was puffing away on her Cuban cigars, “What is my favorite?”
“I wouldn’t forget that Grandma. Your favorite is, “Little boats must keep the shore. Larger boats may venture more.”
“Failure teaches success.”
“God never shuts one door but he opens another.”
“Time is money.”
“No man is without enemies.”
“A wife?”
“A cheerful wife is the joy of life.”
“Ah, my son, your good. Alright, the most important one.”
“What’s that Grandma?”
“ Your name?”
“Oh, that’s easy Grandma, a good name is better than riches.”
“You know something Bobby?”
“What Grandma?”
“You make my heart beat easy.”
“That’s good?”
“Good enough for me, son.”
I asked my father if he would bury Grandma in the spot where the mahogany tree used to be.
He said, “Yes!” without any reservation. I think he too was feeling the same kind of loss as I do. He told me once, that as a boy, he used to climb the mahogany tree and with his slingshot, wait for the wild blue pigeons. He said he fell from the tree once and broke his right foot. He said that was the day Grandma made him swear, he would never climb that tree again and disturb its spirit.

He told me, that’s when she reminded him, “Reckless youth makes rueful age and who will not hear must be made to feel.”