The Coconut-Mango Magic
When their hairs already turned white, their foot steps hesitated, my grandparents bought a house in Vung Tau, a quiet coastal city near Saigon. It was a house with a long front porch and a short garden strip on one side. There, my grandma planted a coconut and a mango tree. The neighbors commented: " It took a very long time for these trees to bear fruits, why bother to grow them at your age?". But grandma had her own agenda. In the southern Vietnamese pronunciation, "coconut" (dua) means "enough", and "mango" (xoai or xai) means "spend". These double meaning trees symbolized her wish to just have "enough to spend", in the spirit of "give us this day our daily bread".
It was during those hard years, post 1975, when there wasn't enough of anything to go around. Her wish was granted, plus a lot more. I was pretty sure. Since after a few years, the whole neighborhood, up and down the street, owed her money. During my summer vacations spent at their place, I witnessed how that happened. The gates of their house were never closed. During hot days, people quietly got themselves inside and slept under the front porch, where the cool tiles offered some relief, then quietly left. Once in awhile, they went inside. Young and old, they just dropped in, searched for my grandma, then spilled their marital complains, their financial troubles... she listened, she consoled, she advised, she "lent" money, knowing that they would not be able to pay her back. When nothing can be done, she cried with them.
I was just a small kid then, almost invisible to the grown-ups, so they did not mind me snooping around during these episodes. I observed, I listened, I remembered...and then I realized--many years later-- that my grandma was the richest person I had ever known--despite the fact that she had to sell off part of that house tin roof as scrap metal in order to survive, after she had nothing else to sell. Thanks to the coconut-mango magic, she was always rich enough to share, whether it's her time, money, or just rain water from her cistern. As a bonus, the trees did bear many seasons of fruit. A few years after my grandpa passed away, she sold the house and moved to Saigon with us, leaving these magical trees behind.
Later, we migrated with grandma to the US. One thing that pleased her tremendously about this new place was when she looked around, no one was poorer than us! As for my grandma, and also for my parents, they were never poor, they always knew how to count what they "Have". "Be thankful, it could be much worse", I was often told. When I want to start something but think it would take too long, or when I wish I could have a bit more of this and that, I think of grandma's trees.
Acorn from spalted mango with coconut palm cap