WHERE THE MILKWEED GROW
Wow, what an incredibly fulfilling and hardworking late-afternoon into late-evening.
Sid and I got home around 11:15 PM from Albuquerque, after arriving there at 3:30 almost 8 hours earlier. We met Lloyd and Cassia and drove to Mel’s gracious home, where we began our six hour surgery - removing two fig trees that had survived there 10 years or more, even though they had been covered with cement gravel and acidic pine needles, and kept in the shaded corner of the yard; the all-too necessary sun blocked by a shed and 6 foot cinder block wall.
The delicate removal required a lot of water that quickly became mud; a lot of digging with our hands, so that our fingers could stream through the roots without breaking them; the use of a special water rod that made you feel like a dental assistant; and the use of another long metal rod that made you feel like a proctologist, with all the prodding and probing we had to do to loosen up the root-bowels of this tree.
Thankfully, we had the guidance of Master Lloyd, the Fig Man of New Mexico, and the gracious patience of our host, Mel.
We were done around 9:15 pm, and so Sidney and I decided to treat ourselves to some fast food at Jack-in-the-Box, including my favorite menu item for my high school years in San Jose - two for $.99 tacos, with the super delicious “mystery meat.”
We drove home for an hour by way of the Turquoise Trail, guided by the light of a full moon. Once back at the ranch, we lifted a good 150 lb. fig tree off the truck bed and into a wheelbarrow, rolled it across the lawn and into the garden, where we transplanted it and its new home.
My final reward, was 15 minutes of repose on our new hammock under the moonlight in the cool spring air, while I composed this musing and review of the day.
Now past midnight, it’s time for a hot shower to clean off all this dirt.
Admittedly though, I enjoyed getting dirty, because it reminded me of the times I rolled around in the mud with my cousins in my backyard at the McEvoy House, which happened to have a 30 foot giant fig tree in the empty lot next door to us.
Coincidentally, when I was asked what animal I’d like to transform into over this last weekend at the Healthy Soil Workshop I answered, “a Monarch (butterfly)” because it reminded me of the milkweed across the train tracks from that fig tree where I used to walk and watch the caterpillars glide up and down the stems and fronds.
That all said, digging much of the mud out of that root swamp rubbed the nubs of my fingers raw and made my knuckles so sore that I could barely hold this phone while composing this musing.
May 26, 2021
It amazes me how we are but a blip, if even that, in the span of human and Earth's history.
In response to my Cousin Kimberly's search for milkweed for her butterfly garden I was going to suggest she go down to McEvoy Street in San Jose, where our family lived from circa 1973-1975.
We had one of two houses on what was largely an industrial small block. Our house sat on the corner of McEvoy and Dupont, which curved around behind us; there was an empty lot next to us with a giant 30 foot fig tree, next to that an auto mechanic's shop and then a couple of other businesses until you got to San Carlos. On the other side was a Purina Animal Feed Supply Store and my only neighborhood friend, Marcos at the only other house at the other end of the block closer to San Carlos. Directly across from our house was more vacant land because it butted up against the railroad tracks. It was there that I used to go play per se, among the milkweed that lie along the freight transit.
Alas, I went onto Google Maps and discovered that the remnants of my idyllic childhood are no more. Indeed much has disappeared: our beloved little home, the railroad tracks themselves, my father's furniture factory across the way on San Carlos, and the milkweed. Next to Delia's Furniture used to be a big ass empty lot that stretched into nowhwere, of course, it is now a huge apartment complex, and probably has been for at least a decade, maybe twenty years, since I left this little town that was "growing up" in 1992, for which I have generally not been able to observe its transformation.
In fact, this small cul-de-sac of San Jose is now slated to be replaced with a 365-unit affordable housing development. In February 2020, "the San Jose City Council unanimously approved plans submitted by First Community Housing to demolish two industrial buildings and replace them with a fully affordable housing development on a 1.13-acre site at 699 West San Carlos Street, between McEvoy and Dupont streets."
Oh well, at least we have photos to remember good times, which included having my dozen first cousins over for birthday parties (Who needs friends when you have so many cousins, right? - Adel De Anda-Hanson, Isabell De Anda, Theresa Sifuentez Pereira, Sandy Mendoza, Diana Martinez); rolling about like hogs in the back yard mud pit with primos Louie and Raul; spending a lot of time alone in the cool shade of the fig tree next door.
Albeit it was a only a stint of three years during my childhood, growing up on McEvoy became a formative pillar of my life story. So much so, it required a good chunk in a chapter in my best-selling memoir, 25 Lessons I've Learned About Photography...(that is) Life! Here is an excerpt:
LESSON 23: ENVISION
"Much of life becomes background, but it is the province of art
to throw buckets of light into the shadows and make life new again."
Photography became such a satisfying pastime for me during the separation that I began to envision, more than ever, how I might have a fighting chance of succeeding at being and becoming an artist.
However, first, I had to overcome my own prejudices; I had to accept that I could actually become an artist before I could actually make an effort to do so.
Ironically, although my father may have been a major proponent in this regard (i.e. “Use Your Imagination, Son”) he was also definitely one of its greatest deterrents.
But I don’t blame him. Far from it.
For although he discouraged me from pursuing a career in the arts, he and my mother also provided me with all the financial and moral support I needed to attend a prestigious college prep and to go on to college, even as they were divorcing during my freshman year.
And if it hadn’t been for my high school years and my sophomore literature class in particular, I wouldn’t have read James Joyce’s Ulysses, and I may not have been inspired to be a writer. Because even though I did not understand a lot of the arcane references at first, the intricacy of his words set me on fire—ablaze with a grandly romantic and inextinguishable love for words.
You see, I understood quite early on that people tend to be products of their environments, their cultures and their heritage. As angry or frustrated as I might have gotten with someone, especially my father, I have long understood that if you accept where they’re coming from, if you acknowledge that they can’t help it, just as much we can’t help feeling strongly about something ourselves—you enable yourself to let go of the negative emotions that tend to get you in trouble and waste so much precious time.
Thus, while I did not see my father as often as I might have liked as a child, I came to understand over time that my father always worked extraordinarily hard, in turn, giving my siblings and me extra ordinary opportunities by which to grow, appreciate and take advantage of this wonderful life.
Occasionally, whenever he drank too much and got emotional, my father would tell me a story about how his mother had slaved away and saved because she wanted her son to go to a special school across the border of Mexico in El Paso, Texas. Yet, my father refused to go because not only was he ashamed of their poverty, but felt guilty because they couldn’t afford to buy him socks, let alone pay for his education. Thus, he only made it through the sixth grade.
At the age of nineteen, however, he decided to be the first of eight siblings to leave home and strike out on his own. He came to San Jose, California where he met my mother and a year later they married. A year after that I was born. We lived in a few different apartments my first few years and then in second grade, when I was six, we moved to a house on McEvoy Street with my two-year old sister and a newborn brother.
It was here that I think my life changed in the most positive way forever. It was here that I began a rather rich childhood, where the freedom of being the oldest child, left alone to explore and entertain himself, endowed me with so many experiences that I cherish in recollection. It is here where I learned about good and evil, about girls and boys, about pain and utter bliss. It is here where a fortunate childhood enabled me to envision all the possibilities of my life looking forward.
It is here where I learned to ride my bike, where Mary gave me my first kiss under the shade of a big tree, where I rolled in the mud with my two older cousins in the backyard, where in the giant empty lot next door, my friend Marcos and I experimentally smoked cigarettes pilfered from my Uncle Samuel—until we got caught and I had to apologize to him; it was one of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood, a moment that moved me to never smoke again.
The McEvoy house was also where I experienced, at the age of seven, my first peek at a naked adolescent girl, and subsequently the first stab of my libido that I can recall—it so happened that I got caught at that, too, when my father walked into the bedroom while I was peeking in the keyhole at my teenage cousin who had just stepped out of the shower.
Apart from all these fond and formative experiences of the earliest part of my carefree youth, McEvoy was also where my father started his furniture business in the basement of the house with his brother.
After toiling everyday at the old General Motors automotive plant in Fremont as a line assemblyman, my father would come home to work on upholstery jobs until late at night. Within a year or so, he had moved his burgeoning business down the street into a huge building where he built a manufacturing plant and a furniture retail store.
At the age of seven, I began to work for my father — on weekends, during summers and on holidays—sweeping the factory floor of all the sawdust and material scraps, making buttons for hours on end, and eventually making the furniture as well.
When I started, I earned fifty cents an hour and a pair of calloused hands. Although I was often exhausted and yearned to be out playing with the other children, I got to buy a lot of comic books. In retrospect, although these are not the fondest memories of my youth, I gained a vital work ethic that I applied fastidiously at school, to work, and to my greatest passions.
I also learned why hard work was so important to my father, for it not only provided him and his immediate family with the material wealth and comfort he never had growing up in Mexico, but it also afforded his children the opportunity to have an education like he never had.
But there was something even more necessary than diligence and perseverance in order to achieve success — he could envision all the possibilities
READ ALL ABOUT IT
365-unit affordable housing project to be built near San Jose’s Diridon Station:
MCEVOY APARTMENTS and DUPONT APARTMENTS
25 Lessons I've Learned about Photography...Life