My mother came into this world with a speech impediment.
You’re probably asking, “What does that have to do with bamboo?”
Hang on and I’ll get there (by the long route).
When my mother was a child, she was ridiculed by other children for “talking funny”. These days, we would call that “bullying”, but back then, nobody really cared. There was that saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Which wasn’t actually true, but back then, they thought that it was.
My maternal grandmother, the oldest child in a family of eight children, would invite her younger siblings, on occasion, to come to Vicksburg and stay with her and her family while they got their feet on the ground as young adults.
One of those younger siblings was my mother’s Aunt Florence.
Having various aunts and uncles stay with them enriched my mother’s life greatly, and caused a closeness to extended family that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
Aunt Florence, with her bouncy blonde curls, was courted by (and married) a young man named Allie Elton Cuevas.
Allie Cuevas was not one to let a child be bullied if there was something that he could do about it. So, daily, he spent time with my mother, teaching her to speak properly. And as a result of Uncle Allie’s gentle guidance, she did learn to overcome the speech impediment and to speak properly. Uncle Allie became a favorite uncle of hers because of that.
And then World War II came along. Allie, along with most other young men of the family, went overseas to fight the enemy. Thanks to many prayers, they all came home safe and sound.
But when Allie came home, he had a souvenir from Guam in his Sea Bag – one piece of a bamboo rhizome.
By then, Florence and Allie had their own place in Vicksburg, a little bungalow adjacent to the Vicksburg National Military Park. This park is a large, beautifully manicured green space with a 16-mile-long tour road marked by monuments from various states commemorating the Civil War and the Siege of Vicksburg.
In the backyard of that little bungalow, Allie planted his bamboo rhizome.
Fast forward fifty or sixty years – Florence and Allie had divorced years earlier, and neither one was still living.
My husband and I were in Mississippi visiting my mother when she said that she wanted to go to Vicksburg, to the house where Florence and Allie had lived, to see Uncle Allie’s bamboo. The last time she had seen the bamboo, it had taken up a plot about forty square feet. She had a mental image of walking up to the little bungalow, knocking on the door, and asking whoever lived there if she could dig up a piece of the bamboo.
So the three of us got into my mother’s car in search of Uncle Allie’s bamboo. We found the street in Vicksburg that now dead-ended at the Park, and drove along its hills and curves until we topped a certain hill – and I gasped at what I saw. Ahead of us, over the hilltops, towering above the native trees was – a bamboo forest!
It was timber bamboo, called such because in Asia it’s used for timber.
Arriving at the dead-end, we parked, made our way past the little bungalow with its fenced yard filled with snarling, slobbering “junk yard dogs”, and entered the bamboo forest.
Once inside, the world grew silent and peaceful, except for the hollow ringing of the bamboo culms striking each other as they swayed in the breeze. It was a near-religious experience. Never had any of us experienced anything like it. I don’t have the words to describe how calming and tranquil it felt to be in that bamboo forest.
Eventually it was time to leave, and we dug up three of the smaller specimens to take home. Even the smallest ones were ten or fifteen feet long, so we cut them down to several feet, and put them into the trunk of my mother’s car. Even after being cut shorter, they stuck out behind the car quite a way, which presented an interesting traffic issue – leaving the neighborhood, we were turning left and a car going straight in the opposite direction nearly clipped the bamboo sticking out from our trunk.
Unfortunately, none of the three that we dug up lived long term. We didn’t realize it then, but we should have dug until we found a rhizome, and taken that home with us. But it’s just as well. None of our neighbors would have appreciated us planting that giant bamboo, which my bamboo-afficionado husband identified as Phyllostachys Vivax.
Before going home, we went to the Vicksburg National Military Park Welcome Center. My mother just *had* to tell the rangers there about her uncle’s bamboo forest. After all, most of it was now within the Park grounds. They were less than thrilled. One of them actually said, “So *you’re* the one!” Apparently, they have to work hard to keep the giant bamboo from overtaking that side of the Park.
If you’re ever in the vicinity of Vicksburg, Mississippi, I highly recommend that you take a walk through Uncle Allie’s bamboo forest. You won’t even have to brave the junkyard dogs like we did. Just go to the Vicksburg National Military Park and follow the route through it until you can see the Louisiana Memorial directly ahead of you, in the area of the Third Louisiana Redan. To your right, you’ll see the giant bamboo towering above the native trees. Park your car, and just walk into the peace and tranquility of a living bamboo forest and its natural wind chimes.
Here’s a map to help you get there. All the brighter green vegetation with pointy tops is the bamboo.
If you go, be sure and let me know that you’ve been to Uncle Allie’s bamboo forest! Here’s a direct link to that map: https://goo.gl/maps/Jr9BWjcDAMz94pRy9
Have you ever been to a bamboo forest? Tell me about it in the comments below.