The Old Man and His Mango Tree

In the past two weeks, I’ve experienced frequent bouts of sleeplessness, up to two hours or so. I wake up for whatever reason, nothing seems to be on my mind, and then gradually I start thinking, and soon I just can’t fall back asleep. Sometimes I wake and I can just sense that it’s going to be difficult to return to sleep. Then one day during meditation, I realized my dad’s death anniversary is coming up. I believe the problems sleeping are my body’s way of communicating to my conscious, aware self. I miss Dad. What turned out to be his last months were emotionally taxing. I believe the body remembers. After my conscious mind came up with this reason for restless sleeping, I’ve been sleeping soundly again.

It’s obon season, the time when the ancestors are honored, briefly explained in that Hawaiian Airlines link. I should go to the “mini” bon service at the local temple, Daifukuji, next weekend. Daifukuji’s bon festival is normally held at the parking lot near Longs at the Keauhou shopping center. You’d see all kinds of people from the community. The bon festivals all came to a screeching halt with COVID, and they’re slowly, cautiously returning, thus the “mini.” Cemetery blessing, taiko drums, dancing, etc. My great grandparents are buried at the cemetery there. I didn’t realize until this past decade. The marker is all in Japanese, which I can’t read or write.

Over decades I’ve been to two different Japanese temples in California during obon season, one in southern, one in northern California. It wasn’t part of what we did as a family, and I didn’t know people at those celebrations in those communities. From what I understand obon is celebrated differently on the mainland, in Japan, and in Hawai’i.

Here the festival season starts in June and ends in mid-September, with most islands having a bon dance every weekend.  Some temple somewhere is having its bon dance. It’s like a social circuit. When I went to a Bat Mitzvah party it reminded me of obon because I haven’t been to many large celebrations attended by a large community, where people of all ages and generations dance together.

I’ve been to more bon dance and celebrations here on the Big Island than anywhere else. Dancing is like Japanese line dancing, but going around in a large circle. If you don’t want to be totally lost, classes are held in the weeks prior. Some temple somewhere probably has classes. My cousin enjoyed going and would invite us to classes; her brother, who didn’t want to dance, preferred to catch on video those moments when we’d turn or not turn and be going around the circle the wrong way. If you’re going around a circle and others are facing you … you’re going the wrong way.

Changing subjects, but somewhat linked in my mind at least … I was surprised by and appreciated the poetic writing in this recent article in the New York Times, “‘Mango Man’ Is the Fruit’s Foremost Poet, Philosopher, Fan and Scientist.” I put in the link in case you have a subscription or are able to otherwise access it. He’s an Indian man, Bea’s age. Mangoes are UH’s retirement passion. Bea met Dad via UH, thus I came into being.

“Theirs is a friendship of over half a century, the old man and his mango tree.

His days, spent with a monk-like contentment knowing that each could be his last, are now largely reduced to the tree’s shade and the tree’s care.

The tree, at least 120 years old, was there long before Kaleem Ullah Khan, 82, first came to this field in Malihabad, in the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India. And it will be there long after he is gone.

But Mr. Khan has spent a lifetime grafting hundreds of different kinds of mango onto this mother tree — and by doing so, he has grafted his own life story onto it as well.”

Mom was growing a Kent mango tree in Southern California. After several years when that tree finally had its very first two mangoes (in 2012) and Mom was excited, Dad touched one from below with his palm and sort of weighed it. It fell off. Then there was one (pictured). Mango stems are strong, but they’re brittle. If you poke at the fruit from below, they might break (a good feature for intentional picking or getting a high-up fruit by throwing a water bottle). Mom was pretty angry.

A few years later, in his last days, Dad was lying on a hospital bed on the ground floor of their two story home. Mom made sure he had a view of the compact backyard with all her plant and tree babies, including that mango tree.

Here in Hawai’i state, there are apparently over 500 mango varieties growing. We have a dwarf Julie growing in the ground; we haven’t yet had fruit and we’ve never knowingly tried it, e.g., from the farmers market or from friends/family. We bought it, trusting in hubby’s mango research. He’s like a research pit bull, bites and won’t let go. (No offense meant to pit bulls).

We have tried the Rapoza variety, and we bought it as soon as we once saw one at Home Depot, but it’s still in the pot in our courtyard. We’re not ready to subject it to pig abuse. When we bought it, it had many blossoms which became fruit. We removed all the fruit but one, so the tree could focus on its growth rather than its fruit. After we try this fruit, we’ll brave it and plant the tree out in the coffee land in our volcanic soil, with some pig protection surrounding it.

I’ll close with another excerpt from the New York Times Mango Man article:

Mr. Khan’s view of the mango — that we are all fleeting, but that the fruit is almost eternal — embodies the passion for it found across much of India. 

“We come, we eat mangoes, and we leave the world,” Mr. Khan said. “But as long as the world is there, this fruit will be there.”

One thought on “The Old Man and His Mango Tree

  1. I so agree that insomnia (and dreams and nightmares) are not random. It’s an interesting avenue in how the mind/body expresses loss and other doings going on in the soul.

    Here is to honoring your dad on the anniversary of his passing and on him being a most necessary part of creating you :).

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