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Reminiscence: Mandarin Garden

All along, the memories of the Mandarin garden 橘园 (jú yuán) are very difficult to part within my memory. When I see such emotional words as “Hometown” in a book, I reminisce about the orange garden behind our house all over again. It is a place that belongs in my heart and represents my hometown. No matter where I will go in the future, I will never forget it.

Chinese Mandarin
Chinese Mandarin

In the year I was born, my parents contracted out the Mandarin garden. At that time, it was not an orange tree 橘树 (jú shù), nor was it called an orange garden. The contract period is 16 years. After the expiration of 16 years, I just grew up. That year, my sister was just 20 years old, which was a wonderful deadline!

I remember when I was very young, the whole garden was full of orange trees. Every autumn, oranges cover the branches, and the garden was golden. The air was filled with orange’s unique fragrance 芳香 (fāng xiāng).

At that time, I especially liked to go with my sister to pick oranges. I was short and small. I couldn’t reach the oranges at all. I couldn’t climb the trees. I had to wait on the ground for my sister to pick  (zhāi) oranges and help her deliver them to the basket. At that time, I always hoped that I could grow up quickly and pick oranges when I grew up. I also longed for myself to climb up the tree and see the scenery in the distance from up the trees!

However, I finally did not have a chance, because before I grew up, my father cut down all the trees in the Mandarin garden. I don’t know the particular reason. Perhaps my father grew tired of all the orange trees. When I saw that the garden was bare and only stumps were left, I felt dejected.

And, this regret has always been with me, I have not climbed a tree.

As time went by, I grew up again. The stumps in the orange garden had begun to rot. my mother decided that the orchard could not be left to waste like this, so she planned to plant watermelon 西瓜 (xī guā) in the garden. At this time, my favorite pastime is to stay in the garden to watch the watermelon, because it means you can eat watermelon heartily, how wonderful!

My father set up a simple tent 帐篷 (zhàng peng) near the steep slope in the garden, and put a bed in it so that people could live in it. In the evening, my father lived there. During the day, my sister and I went to guard melon. Every time, my father warned us not to eat watermelons secretly. He also said that he had counted all the watermelons in the garden. If one was missing, we were the only ones to ask.

But who would be stupid enough to believe him?

Of course, we want to eat the melon, but after eating, we destroy the watermelon rind. After eating watermelon, my sister and I threw the rind down the steep slope behind the tent, where weeds grew. After throwing the rind in, no one can see it unless they take out all the weeds.  

In this way, my sister and I steal to eat watermelon every day. The “stolen” watermelon is actually thousands of times more delicious than ordinary watermelon. In later days, I always felt that if the feeling of “stealing” was lost, the watermelon would no longer be delicious.

After planting watermelon for several years, the orange garden was abandoned again. Maybe my mother was tired of it. Only a small potherb was planted in the southeast corner of the huge garden, and the rest of the garden was just weeds spreading recklessly.

The stumps left in those days were eroded by time. They all became dust and soil, even the traces of the stumps can no longer be found.

But we don’t call it a barren garden or a vegetable garden. We still call it the orange garden.

And I still love to play in it. Every time I need to pick vegetables in the garden, I am always willing to help my mother. As time goes by, my mother will only leave this task to me, as if I am the bridge connecting the orange garden and the home. Whether it is cold or hot, I have never shirked the task of picking vegetables, so I have a deeper and deeper emotion toward the orange garden.

Later, I went to junior high school and often came to the orange garden after going home on weekends. No matter what grievances I suffered in school and how tired I was studying, they would disappear like smoke and clouds when I arrived at the orange garden. Picking vegetables and spending time in the orange garden is my method of rejuvenation.

I was just 16 years old when I was a freshman in senior high school. The orange garden was full of pine trees and then handed to the collective. Because of my busy study in high school, it was often several months before I could go home. Many times, I didn’t care to go to the orange garden to have a look. Sometimes I glanced at the orange garden in a hurry, but all I see are mounds of grass growing vigorously.

It’s easy for streamers to throw people away. The distance 距离 (jù lí) between me and the orange garden is not the distance of a garden gate, but the great glory drawn by the time between me and the orange garden. Clearly, I stood in front of it, but I never had the courage to push the door open again nor even get close to it.

Now, I am in a bustling big city. I will face this complicated and cruel society in the future, but never that small land again. I don’t know whether my heart is a yearning or reluctant, happy, or sour.

Most of my childhood memories have gone away, but my memory of the orange garden remains. I am afraid that if I forget, I will lose my childhood, forget my native land and become a rootless person.

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