I bought happiness at a farmer’s market in Kauai for seven dollars.
It only lasted a few minutes — maybe a dollar per minute. But it was enough.
The vendor didn’t even do much. I’m sure he did some back-end work. But at the moment the money exchanged hands, he only swung his machete to create an opening in my coconut so I could drink the water.
The water made me a kid again. It took me right back to my childhood. I zipped through a black hole to when I would sit down on my grandfather’s cowhide rickety chairs and drink coconuts with him.
I can’t think of coconuts without thinking of my grandfather’s farm.
The farm’s entrance was adorned by a promenade of coconut trees — two rows of almost forty coconut trees.
In Colombia, landowners live in the city but tend to their farms on the weekends. During the week, the ‘capataces’ run everything from dawn to dusk in ‘la finca’.
Every Saturday morning, my grandfather would pick me up, and we would go to his farm. He was the paternal figure in my life while my parents were going through their divorce. Maybe not just a paternal figure but also a grounding one.
He was a quiet and reserved man with an ascetic discipline. A chemical engineer who spent sixty to seventy hours at work until his retirement. The kind of man who at 93 years old still wakes up at five in the morning to do stretching exercise so he won’t slouch.
Growing up, I always wanted to be like him. We, all of his ten grandchildren, respected him with awe because of the admiration and veneration his daughters professed for him.
I always wanted to connect with him, learn from him, be like him.
We never connected directly. He comes from a generation that was meant to be emotionally stunted. Those men never openly talked about their feelings. So we always connected indirectly through the little rituals we had built in our lives.
The Saturday trip to the farm was one of such rituals. He would pick me up early in the morning at my house, and we would drive the hour-long ride to the farm.
Once the questions about my grades were exhausted, we would listen to news radio shows in silence. Now and then, I would offer my political views, and he would act interested and responded to whatever I was saying.
When we got to the farm, he would connect with the foreman over last week’s work, he would settle bills, he would pay workers, he would check on the milk production, and sometimes he will sell one or two cows when he needed to meet the financial demands of a farm that never turned a real profit.
Then we would go for a walk.
I always cherished any opportunity to walk with him.
At 6’2″, he was a towering figure, and I could never keep up with his over-reaching gait. Instead, I would fall behind and jump on the footprints he left on the ground. In my mind, I thought the symbolism of walking in his footsteps would help me grow to be like him.
The farm was an inheritance from his father. My great grandfather came from nothing and work hard so he could own land and cattle. The story of his hard work permeated our family’s folklore. When he died, he split everything into six equal parts and left one for each of his kids.
My grandfather inherited 130 acres like the rest of his siblings. But the piece of land he got was the driest and most remote of all of them. Almost 70 years later, alive at 92 years old, he is the only one of his siblings holding on to it.
He received the land with gratitude, and he and my grandmother worked hard on it.
I never met my grandmother; she died in her late forties. But, while I was growing up, I saw traces of her love in all of my aunts and my mom. They are all loving mothers, even though a tad paranoid and neurotic at times. But all-loving, nonetheless. They all talk of how her mother’s efforts turned the farm into what it is today.
Frutalia is 130 acres of fruit trees and high grass. It is so hard to look at a prosperous piece of land and think that there was a time when the same piece of land was arid and ungrateful.
My grandma planted all sorts of tropical fruit trees. The farm had pomelo grapefruit, papaya, green and red guava, mandarines, limes, lemons, and cashew apples — that I can remember. I’m sure there were more fruits.
The coconut trees were the most impressive; two rows of beautiful coconut trees alongside the small road from the entrance to the foreman’s beat-up house.
Planting is the perfect symbol for truly selfless acts of generosity. My grandmother died without knowing any of her ten grandkids. But we got to enjoy the beauty and bounty of her acts of generosity. Planting a tree is an act of trust in the future. You don’t know who will benefit from it. You think it might be you. But the truth is that between the moment you plant a tree and the moment that tree becomes mature, a lot can happen, and you might not even be there to enjoy those fruits.
I often think of the farm, and I think of the work she and my grandfather put in, and I can help but feel nostalgic and conflicted.
What is my responsibility to the farm? What are my responsibilities to the roots of those fruit trees? What is my responsibility to my roots?
I have not been to the farm in twenty years. When I emigrated from Colombia, I also abdicated any ideas that I could somehow help with it; the idea that I can keep my family’s tradition going by holding on to a piece of land that holds so many memories to so many of us.
When I think of my grandfather, I think of all the roots that have died between us. I moved away from Colombia; I dropped out of engineering school and chose to pursue the humanities; I’m an agnostic and not a Catholic; I didn’t marry a Latina, and I never baptized my daughters. The list probably goes on.
But regardless of how many of my roots I don’t observe, I still love him, and I know he loves me.
Regardless of what happened to my roots, I will always be able to access my love for my grandfather and the teachings he imparted to me. The love he cultivated by being there for me at a moment when I needed him the most, the moments in my life when I needed stability and structure; the exact stability and structure he provided.
The roots, rituals, and traditions might never live on in me in the way my grandfather wanted them to; most of them have already die.
But the fruits of the values he taught me will live on forever. I will take those with me wherever I go and one day I will gift them to my daughters so they can live on forever.