Far in the back of the house on Goodwin Avenue was a garden. Well, there were several gardens in that house, but the one to the very back of the property; past the patio and the garage was the vegetable garden. That garden belonged to my Papa (grandfather). There were nopales (cactus) growing against the back wall of the white-painted garage; a membrillo (quince) tree that I had planted with him when I was about two years old; a lemon tree that always seemed full of big, juicy fruit; and two guayaba (guava) trees. There was cilantro, chiles, strawberries, chives, and tomatoes growing in neat rows in one patch and a stand of tall caña a (sugar cane) and corn growing against the back fence that sheltered us from the witch’s house. Really, she was just a mean and nasty old lady who yelled at us over the fence. I have no idea why everyone in the neighborhood called her the witch, but she scared the crap out of all of us.
I loved that garden with it’s strange, but efficient irrigation system of old MJB glass coffee jars that routed the water from the hose neatly down each row. I loved my grandfather’s ingenuity. Two old and re-purposed broom sticks leaned against the lemon tree. My grandfather had attached the curve part of a wire hanger to them and those handy hooks on a stick would bring the highest lemons, tumbling into my basket or apron with just a single twist and pull. Most of all, I loved the guayaba trees.
My grandfather once told me he brought the seedlings of those trees from Mexico many years before. I believed him. I believe he nourished those seedlings with all the love and care he gave everything in that garden. Those trees to me, were a symbol of his love and devotion and I knew he would care for me and keep me safe just as he had those trees all those years ago.
Come the end of September and through the beginning of December those two trees would produce a wealth of delicious guayabas. They smelled musky and the white kids on the school bus would laugh at my full bags of fruit on the bus because they said they smelled like underarms. I didn’t care, through my face burned hotly at their cruel comments. I loved them. The guayabas tasted of my grandparent’s house and love. They were soft, sweet and delicious and I loved the little round ball of edible seeds. There’s nothing like the taste of guayabas and for me, they say Autumn in the way falling leaves do for other people.
I loved bringing in bowls full of the yellow fruit to my grandmother. What we didn’t gobble up fresh off the tree was made into cajeta, ate de guayaba that was later used for empanadas, ponche navideño, and even once, a very pink cake that caused my Aunt Jessie and I so much work to strain the seeds so they didn’t fill the batter. I loved walking into the kitchen and smelling the guayabas ripening in bowls around it. The two trees themselves reminded me of a favorite song of my grandmother’s by Pedro Infante Dos Arbolitos, a song about two trees.
When my mother inherited the house, she let the gardens die including the two trees my grandfather devoted a big chunk of his life to caring for. When I heard from a nephew that the trees had been chopped down, it felt like my grandparents had died all over again.
Every time I see or taste a guayaba, I am transported to that garden that will live on in my memories forever. In that garden, the trees are entwined and represent my Papa and Grandma.