The Fragrance of My Father’s Love

by David Atherton

Shortly after I was born, my folks started their Jungle Training in preparation for their move as Bible Translators in the Philippines. Jungle camp was located in some dank, dark Mexican jungle. I recall nothing from that excursion, but, Dad told me I almost died of malaria or a related malady while there. My second birthday was held in great festive manner aboard a tramp freighter in Manila Harbor.  I know this is true because I saw, like George, John, Paul and Ringo, the photograph.

My earliest memories deal with growing things and playing in the jungle.  I have a visceral need to grow.  Everywhere I have gone in my adult life, I have had some sort of garden.  One of the earliest was my orchid garden in Nasuli, Bukidnon, Mindanao, Philippines, I had a huge playground.  I roamed several hundred square miles of jungle, rivers, streams, and swamps. Inevitably, I found interesting orchids on each trip.  Sometimes, they were in the ground, sometimes I climbed huge trees to get them.  Gradually, my collection grew.  I had over 50 different kinds all growing on the trees in my yard or hanging on the front porch.

For a kid growing up where there were absolutely no jobs, I managed to earn some spending money by selling my extra orchids.  Ten centavos here and ten centavos there and I had enough money to buy rubber for my slingshots and hooks and lines for my fishing.

In 1964, we returned to the Philippines from furlough in the States, but, I did not go back to Mindanao.  I stayed in Manila to attend high school at Faith Academy.  During one Orchidshort vacation, I went to a remote jungle location in Luzon, Philippines. While there, I continued my orchid hunting habits and found a very nice one.  This type of orchid grew a new spike each year.  The spike hung rather than stuck up in the air.  Each year, the new growth would be longer than the previous growth.  During the growth cycle, the leaves would fall off and in their place a bud would grow.  Oddly, this orchid was strongly fragrant.  It was a vibrant and beautiful purple.

At the end of ninth grade, I headed back to Mindanao for the summer and put this new acquisition in a place of prominence on the front porch. I never saw it bloom again because the bloom cycle happened while I was away at school. During my senior year, my dad took a bloom, put it in a Gerber’s baby food jar with some water soaked cotton and somehow got it sent up to me at school.  For some reason, the administrative staff gave it to me while I was in class.  I opened the jar and the fragrance permeated the atmosphere in seconds.  It was so beautiful.  The memories of the flower, the fragrance and my father’s love still mist my eyes 40 plus years later.

I never saw my last childhood home again but Dad told me for many years whenever that plant was in bloom, both Americans and Filipinos from around the area would come to look at it and take pictures of it.  In the final year they were there, it had 32 huge blooms on it.

My dad is long since gone, the mental picture of the flower has faded, but the fragrance of my father’s love is still very fresh.

(Photo is of a similar orchid, not the original one in the story.)

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