Greg spent 10 years in the US as a foreign student, growing up during turbulent times and falling in love with the people and the country.
Preparations for a day unlike any other day
Every Monday morning, Arthur woke up early and kissed his father goodbye as he watched him prepare to make his weekly trip to work in the city. He looked almost longingly as his father grabbed his small clothes bag and went over to give his mom a big hug and then a loving gentle kiss to the baby bump on her abdomen. “It’s only for a week,” he thought and then continued, “and then we’ll be a complete family again when he gets back.”
Outside their home, the sound of the village awakening came to them through the canopy of trees that hid their mountaintop home from the lower houses on the hill.
As Arthur watched, his father hurried into his car to prep for the drive into the city where he worked as an engineer. Both Arthur and his mom moved to the window and waved, as the car made its way out of the shaded parking area and into the village street where it would soon form part of the thousands of automobiles and buses that made their way into the city through the newly built highway. As soon as the convoy of vehicles left, the automobile sounds quickly subsided, leaving a silence that was disturbed only by the sound of wind and the rustle of tree branches. As quickly as it had begun, the sounds of people moving and rushing to their rides were quickly replaced by the silence of suddenly vacant homes. In the distance, a radio unknowingly left on played a popular song while birds in the trees began their usual chatter now that most of the people were gone.
Arthur wondered what news the week would bring as he turned to his mom, “Hey Mom, will you need me for any errands today?”
“I don’t think so, Arthur, I’ll just be painting till lunch, and then you can help me make dinner,” she said. “But first I want you to clean up and brush your teeth,” she reminded him, “and don’t forget to tell me if you leave the house.”
Arthur’s mother wasn’t really as concerned for Arthur’s safety as the village was considered a safe and secure place for the homeowners’ children, she was more worried for herself and for her pregnant condition. Thankfully she and Arthur could always rely on her neighbors and friends in the village. It was, as Arthur’s dad had once said at a neighbor’s dinner party, “an ideal place for families to grow old together, away from the noise and confusion of the city.” The proximity of Arthur’s village to the city had once been measured in hours, but that had changed quickly with the construction of the highway. Eventually the city would engulf them with even more roads and plans for new villages and towns until no one would ever remember the mountain retreat which Arthur and his family once referred to as home.
After a shower and a long and vigorous tooth brushing, Anthony excused himself from his seemingly overly engrossed mother and made his way out of his home, a half-eaten apple butter sandwich in his hand. Outside, the sun shone down fiercely on his forehead, but the continuous breeze and the shade of the standing trees kept the environs comfortable. He headed for the village park, which in the past had been a large vacant field of young tree saplings marked by a ring of concrete benches where the village mothers and nannies would sit with their young wards in the late afternoon. As the day cooled, the children were allowed run and exercise after their midday naps. It was still too early in the morning when he arrived at the park so there was hardly anyone present to watch or talk to, but as he scanned the trees, he saw someone vigorously kicking a young tree sapling. On approaching the scene, he recognized his neighbor’s daughter Rita wrestling with a tree branch.
“Hi Rita,” he said. “What are you doing to that tree?”
“Oh hi Anthony, I’m just trying to break it in half by doing a flying kick, just like in the movies” she replied, a trickle of sweat beginning to run down her forehead. “Um, do you have any toys we can play with? All my toys are with my baby sister.”
“No, I left them all at home. Maybe we can look around in the grass for something to do. Look, here’s a rope that’s long enough for us to tie to the tree. Maybe we can yank it down," Anthony said helpfully.
“Great idea Anthony, let me tie it to the tree trunk,” Rita said as she took the rope and began tying it to the trunk with an intricate and complex set of knots that only a child with lots of spare time could do. Anthony watched her as she began her task of attaching it to the tree, her childlike fingers still unsure of the rope’s strength as she struggled to complete the knots.
“Let me help you, Rita,” Anthony volunteered as he grabbed a wayward strand of rope and began making his own knots. After some time, the rope to tree connection looked more like ball of hemp and cord that was somehow confusingly attached to the tree.
“Let’s yank on it and see if we can pull it down,” Rita said as she grabbed a length of rope and began pulling. “Come on, Anthony, help me.”
Both of them began pulling, but the tree’s roots were well attached to the ground while the trunk only gave a little ground by bending. They struggled while pulling, alternately encouraging each other and yelling when the tree would either bend or spring back. The sight and sound of two children struggling with the rope and tree had now reached the rest of the park, catching the attention of early park goers and their kids. Some of the children were initially mesmerized by their actions and then headed straight for them while those with nannies were prevented from joining in the fray.
“Can we join in your game?” a young boy said, with his elder sister looking on. “Sure!” said Rita, “grab the rope and help us pull it down.” The smiles all around were contagious and beckoned to even more of the children who were now entering the park and running over to join them.
In a short time, Anthony was quickly introduced to Marvin and Michael who eagerly joined in their tug of war fray. When Gabby and Christine joined, Anthony was sure they would win but the tree seemed impervious to their pooled efforts. It would bend or sway whenever the children combined their efforts to pull but would quickly spring back if one or two of the children would even relax their grip. To the children and to the park visitors, it certainly was a comedic sight to behold, watching a group of children struggle to try and to pull down a tree that clearly was too much for them and listening to their screams and shouts of laughter as they were pulled back to their starting place when they grew tired. Even the nannies started encouraging them with applause and cheers, only to end with shouts of dismay or encouragement as the tree won. In the end, the tree was clearly victorious as the children grew tired and the day grew hotter. Eventually all the children lay down on the sparse grass, their bodies scattered around the tree that had defeated them but which had proven to be so much fun.
To Anthony, the children’s struggle was the most enjoyment he had ever encountered in the village, and it was reflected on the face of each child who had joined in the tug of war. Their faces were clearly flushed and sweaty, but not even the dirt and dust on them could hide the smiles on their faces. The few children who were held back from the epic battle by their nannies were clearly the most upset and were the ones crying. Years from now, Anthony and the other participants would always remember the children’s tug of war, their physical struggle, all their hands alternately releasing and grabbing the rope, their screams and laughter disturbing the stillness of the day, their faces showing effort, exhaustion and satisfaction. It was a timeless memory that would be spoken about among all the village children, whenever they would meet and talk. It soon became a viral legend that even parents discussed and shared at parties and social gatherings.
As they rested amidst the sparse shade of the trees in the park, Rita started introducing Anthony to the other children. He noted that she appeared to know everyone in the park, even those who came with nannies or with their own mothers. In the distance, Anthony heard his mother calling for him as she made her way gingerly to the park with Rita’s mom, holding and guiding her down the pebbly sidewalk.
“I have to go home now, Rita, my mom’s calling. And she’s with your mom too coming down the road,” Anthony said as he stood up and brushed the dirt and leaves off his clothes.
“Okay Anthony, but let’s meet up tomorrow for this tree. We still have a long way to go before we can knock this tree down,” she said.
The two friends stood up from among the crowd of children lying on the grass, said their goodbyes and hurried to their mothers waiting at the edge of the park.
They did not realize it then, but the tree would continue to attract all the children in the park and it would never be pulled down. The village fathers, upon hearing the story of the kids and the tree, had immediately passed a resolution protecting it while the kids, remembering how much fun it had brought, continually used it as a meeting place for all their games and parties.
In the years that passed, the young sapling grew to be an immense mango tree. To the children, it was more than just the shade and the fruit that attracted them to the mango tree and made it their meeting place, it was the vivid memory of that cool, dusty and arid day, when they all had a chance to get together and with one length of frayed rope, meet and become eternal friends.
In the years that passed, the young sapling grew to be an immense mango tree
A young man prepares himself
Anthony was now a young man of 24 years of age, but he still remembered that day, as if it had only happened recently. The park had grown old, so that all the planted saplings were now large trees with giant branches that shaded the area and made it a popular place to refresh oneself. The ground was now thick with grass, and the park benches, which before had appeared so stark white in the glare of that morning years ago were now covered with moss and weeds. Almost forgetting himself momentarily, Anthony checked to ensure that his engagement ring was secure in his pocket, with which he was to offer to his fiance Rita. They had been together for at least 10 years, and their childish friendship had matured into a courtship which was now about to enter a new chapter in their lives.
Anthony gazed at the mango tree which formed such a meaningful part in their lives. He saw that the trunk was now a massive one lifting heavy branches into the sky. On one side of the trunk was where they had all scratched their names in remembrance of the many days and meetings they had enjoyed as children and later on as young adults, discussing the numerous happenings around the village. Anthony saw his name carved on the trunk with Rita’s name next to it, the two names now connected by a heart which one of his friends had placed, announcing to the world of their budding relationship. It had been a source of constant ribbing by his friends, until that one day when Anthony and Rita were alone, they had learned and shared of each other’s affectionate feelings and become a couple to everyone, and even to their own families.
Anthony now stood by the tree which had been the source of so many memories to him as a child growing up around friends. He saw the remnants of a rope, now just a few idle strands left hanging on a branch where as a child he and everyone else had attempted to climb. Grabbing the rope, he pulled on it and was surprised by its strength. After almost 20 years, it had withstood the sun and rain and of course, the countless numbers of children who had used it in their games.
“I wonder how many tug of wars has it outlasted?” Anthony almost said out loud, before realizing that he was procrastinating. In his mind, he silently said a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for all the blessed days he had spent as a child and for all the friends and acquaintances he had met along the way. He ventured one long final view at the park, at the mango tree and lastly at the rope, before he turned away and headed for Rita’s home. His childhood memories swirled through his mind as he headed on to the next phase in his life. "Goodbye," he said to the tree. The strands of rope waved at him in the breeze, formally challenging him to another game of tug of war.
"Anthony," Rita called to him, standing in her heels from the edge of the concrete sidewalk which led to their parents' homes. When he heard her call his name, he felt a musical thrill echo through his heart, reverberating throughout his body. as he turned to face her.
Rita had grown up as a young lady, Anthony smiled. From her years as an active, stocky and tomboyish child, she had matured into a tall and strikingly slender beauty of a girl that had made him the envy of many of the village men. Anthony felt a pang of joy whenever she called his name, and his memories of them both cascaded through his mind. He quickly walked to her, they kissed and before she could say anything, he grasped her hand and placed in her hand the ring from his pocket. As Rita slowly opened her hand, she gasped and tears formed in her eyes when she saw that it was an engagement ring wrapped in a bundle of rope strands.
"Maybe, we can win the tug of war this time," Anthony said. Putting his arm over her shoulder, he cradled her. "Let's go see your folks and surprise them." Together, they both walked hand in hand on the footpath that would take them to a new phase in their lives.
Their childish friendship had matured into a courtship
© 2020 Gregory Floro