“Do you see that? Two years ago, that tree was but a small plant. Look at it now; it is strong, tall and with giant roots. We would be like that one day.”
My sister put the broom between her legs, freeing her hands. She pointed the left toward the tree while her eyes and right hand were on me. She was trying to convince me that there was a great future waiting for us.
In an apparent agreement, the white popinac’s branches and leaves would sway back and forth.
“Mother said that when those leaves and branches sway like that, the tree is worshipping God.”
My sister was right, our mother would always use that line in an effort to convince us not to play in the backyard beyond six in the evening. She would follow it with the question, “Would you allow the white popinac’s branches and leaves pray to God earlier than you do?” And even if we loved to play hopscotch, we would go inside our house in a hurry. Our pride could not take that a tree would beat us in the prayer bout.
“You’re making a drama out of that tree, again.”
I was laughing. In my young mind, my sister’s optimism was frivolous. But in between weekend conversations like that, I would always look at the white popinac tree hoping and praying she was right.
Backyard cleaning was part of our weekend routine. With still unkempt hair from the night sleep and breath dying for some mouthwash, we would sweep and rake leaves
and talk stories in between. We would analyze the significance of the white popinac tree in our lives. While we laughed at the silliness of our analysis, we secretly hoped that someone mightier than the white popinac tree could hear and would help us make it happen.
Our mother died when I was seven and my sister 10. Together with my eldest sister who was then 13, we were left under the care of some relatives while our father worked away from home.
The transition was not easy. We had to make a lot of adjustments. And the process created wounds capable to infect a fragile soul. I sustained some of those wounds for quite a while. And those were depressing times, but we also had fun times.
In some days that we felt like our young souls would be crushed into pieces, my sister and I would find ourselves in the backyard. While crying, she would remind me again about the white popinac tree.
“We are just like that tree. It used to be a seed buried deep beneath the dark soil, but there is an assigned time for it to sprout, develop and grow. We would grow taller and bigger.”
And whenever my sister would drop that punch line, we would burst out laughing. We would forget about our situation. We would start recalling each other’s bloopers and funny lines and hurt our belly for cracking up. Then we would feel better. We learned to lick our wounds until they healed. And this approach worked well for us.
After high school, I moved to the nation’s capital to attend college. Over 123 miles away from home, I would
still remember that white popinac tree in our backyard. And from time to time, I would hope and pray my sister was right.
I would go home for a vacation every semestral and summer break for the next five years. Things were slowly changing for the three of us. Our life events started to come together. There was no trace that growth used to be far-fetched for us. Probably, my sister was right.
In my last hometown visit in 2007, I met the white popinac tree in our backyard. It was undergoing a normal shedding process with dead barks falling off. And from time to time, its leaves would remind me of the conversations I had with my sister. It would remind me of our cries that turned into laughter, our despair that turned into hope and dreams that became reality. The white popinac tree was there, eavesdropping on the weeps and chuckles of two little souls.
After two more years, I moved to another country and started a family. Over 5, 259 miles away from home, I would still remember that white popinac tree in our backyard. And as pieces of our lives’ puzzles fall into place, three unique versions of that white popinac tree have grown in our souls—strong and unyielding to life’s storms.