When asked what I remember about Cuba, one of the first things that comes to mind is a mata de ciruela – a plum tree – that my parents had in the backyard. Im told – remember, I was only a little over 3 years old when I left Cuba – that I would climb that tree to eat the plums.
A couple weeks ago, mom called to say that my matica was ready for me to take home.
“Mi matica,” I asked. “Que matica?”
“Una matica de ciruela que te tengo,” she replied. A small plum tree she had for me.
Now, I dont know where she got the matica. She may have bought it at a local nursery, but chances are she didnt. Mom doesnt buy many trees, flowers yes, but never trees. See, my mother has the green thumb of green thumbs. She has that gift that any plant or tree or flower she touches blooms like never before. She has rescued failed science fair experiments, she’s cultivated every fruit imaginable – from mango to papaya to toronja to mamey to guayaba to aguacate. She has saved neighbors trees and orchids, taken in ailing plants and revived them and her back yard, while modest in size, has the most beautiful array of plants and flowers and trees you can imagine. Mom can take a dead branch, stick it in a cup of water and two weeks later have a ready to plant little “matica.”
Unfortunately, the “green thumb” is not something that I inherited. I have to actually work to keep my lawn alive, much less plants and trees. Thus you can understand my apprehension for bringing the “matica de ciruela” that mom grew for me home to be planted in my yard. I kept “forgetting” to take la matica each time I went over to their house because chances are that I’d kill the darned thing. The matica stayed at mom’s for weeks.
But weekend before last, when I went over to see mom after her hospital scare to help out around their house, I noticed that her garden didnt look like it always looks. It wasnt as vibrant or as lush as usual. The garden, like my mom, was ailing.
Since she had been in hospital for a few days and was still not feeling well enough to venture outside, her plants had not been watered. So I decided to give them a little H2O CPR. I used the hose for the arecas and papayas and bouganvilleas, carefully, softly but not too softly, spraying the leaves and trunks and ground. And the more delicate plants – las gardenias y las mala madres y los elechos and the slew of flowers – got a visit from me and the old watering can, like mom does, spending a few minutes or so with each, gently watering the bases and soils, removing any little weeds or clovers or dried leaves.
As I hosed and watered my mom’s garden, right there in the middle of the yard, where our sweet and sour orange tree used to be, stood my potted matica de ciruela. The plum tree my mom had gotten and taken care of for me to plant in my yard. It was just sitting there, not just waiting to be watered, starting to wilt a bit, but I felt like it screamed at me, craved for my attention, waiting to be removed from the dreaded black plastic pot. It was like it was telling me that it just wanted a home, a place to grow. A place to lay down its roots and someday produce fruit.
So I took it home that day. And as I walked by mom, who was still recovering on her recliner, and she saw me finally taking la matica de ciruela, she smiled. Gave me that “finally you’re taking the plant home with you” look.
On Sunday I went to a local nursery and bought fertilized potting soil. I bought fruit tree fertilizer and a new shovel. And I chose, finally, the perfect spot for mom’s matica de ciruela.
And yesterday, when I got home from work, I dug the hole right there near ManCamp and I planted it. Being that I do not have my mom’s green thumb, I know Im going to have to work to keep it alive. Im going to have to care for it if I want it to produce fruit. I’ll have to water it, prune it, pull weeds from its base, feed it, medicate it if it gets sick and make sure the bugs and crickets and caterpillars don’t eat its leaves.
And hopefully, many years from now, when my mom is no longer with us, my matica de ciruela will still be there in my yard, blooming and bearing fruit, because I will have cared for it like mom always cared for me.
My matica de ciruela that mom grew for me, just like the one we had in Cuba, whose fruit taught me to climb trees at the age of three.
Update: Reader Barbara E. emailed the following:
Cuando mi papa estaba cortando cana para obtener las planillas para dejar a Cuba, mi abuelo se quedaba con mami y con migo para cuidarnos. En nuestra finca habia una mata de ciruela, pero estaba en el lindero con la propiedad atras de la nuestra. Habia que cruzar el potrero de las vacas para llegar hasta la mata de ciruela y el viage era un poquito largo. Parece que yo lo tenia jodio de todos lo dias con la misma cosa, un dia me abuelo me dijo, mira yo te voy a sembrar una mata de ciruela. Bueno ya tu sabes como se pone un muchacho con algo asi. Abuelo agarra el machete y vamos para la mata, yo no sabia lo que el tenia en mente. Tengo que hacer una pausa aqui y decirte que abuelo media como 6 pies, un hombre grande. Llegamos a la mata y abuelo le corta una horqueta que tenia la mata que parecia un arbol hecho. Se la hecha al hombro y vamos para la casa y me la siembra en el patio. Encontra de toda logica de arboles y jardines, aquella horqueta se pego, hecho raices y continuo como si nada. Al poco tiempo, mis abuelos vinieron para aca y nosotros nos quedamos. La mata de ciruela crecio mas florecio y dio frutas, mi parte favorita era encaramarme en la horqueta, cojer las frutas y comerlas ahi mismo en la mata. En el ’79 una prima mia nos visito en Cuba y le tomo fotos a la mata y me abuelo las llego a ver. Yo todavia tengo fotos de la mata . Bueno, esa es la historia.