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Opening Coconuts with the Gardener and my Brother

By Ira Liebowitz

March 7, 2024

Let’s go back, back through a mist of time to dreamy nostalgia. I am in bright sunshine surrounded by lush greenery - crotons, hibiscus - the pink-green elephant ear plants - - not from the Serengeti - - outside a South Florida apartment. Look up high, higher to the tops of Sabel Palms with frondly foliage of dark, lush green enshrouding its fruit: varying shades of maturity: yellow, gold, olive-green Coconuts.

Alongside me is a vital, vivacious, ebullient and keen - yes, wise despite his youth - that was, he was, my twin brother, Alan. Now, Alan was brilliant, having an insight into humane nature for beyond his chronological years. Say, thirty years, his astral age. His actual age: six.

Oh, back to coconuts. By the white sidewalk lining our garden stood tall, stately those bundles - like over-sized verdant grapes - prized epicurean treats of which patties are covered in chocolate and sold in two-packs at five-and tens and tourist souvenir shops. Sometimes these enviable edibles, these coveted coconuts (how’s that for alliteration?!) fell to the ground - kerplunk! - for the taking.

Again, Alan was beyond his years. Probably all of four-foot and, say, tree-score pounds. “Could you open this for us?” politely he’d ask the gardener, with no small degree of reverence. Probably Gene was clad in blue overalls - not like Captain Kangaroo’s sideman, Mr. Greenjeans. This strong, thoughtful man whose lean fingers perhaps with calluses borne from great toil; his skin, nearly as close to jet black as imaginable.

From a leather tool belt Gene disengaged first, if memory is right, a solid steel wrench. A second tool, his trusty clawed hammer with which in delicate, graceful swipes, flick the pink-brown husks, the pithy pulp, from the coconut. Five or six such swipes freed the enveloped fruit.

The ease at which Gene performed this arduous task held the two little boys spellbound. I don’t recall the details of this gentleman, save for a lanky physique and a white, broad smile in contrast, in relief, to skin which took on a sheen of polished ebony.

Did I mention that Alan had not a prejudiced bone in his little body? And an innate common sense. “Don’t ask mom to buy that bow and arrow, Ira. We can’t afford it,” he confided. He, who’d tied his shoes before I could, who’d instructed me in kindergarten where to find the puzzles and toys and start me coloring.

From nowhere, out of the blue, the worst form of brain cancer had struck and ravaged my brother. Years later mom confided to me how Alan had worn a luminous smile after awakening for a month-long coma after surviving surgery. “Why are you smiling?” she’d then inquired. “Don’t be sad, mom,” this valiant boy responded. “I smile because I want you to be happy!”

There are those few angelic beings who walk among us. Those tapped into the crucible of love and kindness and goodness to all. Those who stand stalwart for unity and brother/sisterhood. Like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King .. Like Gene, the gardener, and like Alan. May we learn from the legacy of such quiet heroes and, during Black History Month, reflect on the goodness that unites us all.

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