Sugar Cane

by | Jun 13, 2023 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Three

My vovô was a cowboy. The kind that herded cattle, slept under stars, travelled far, and came home to build a place to call his own. He chose his valley carefully: a hollow surrounded by hills covered in dense forest with streams that ran high with rain, overwhelming the only dirt road into the nearest town.

Not that he needed to go far. The place had everything: a big corral with cows and a milking room and a quarto de queijo for making artisan cheese. A corn mill upstream from the pig pens where cornmeal was ground to make quitanda and polenta. Just past the kitchen there was a small, fenced garden for herbs, then a larger garden that spilled over into plantations of rice and beans and corn and sugar cane. The horse stable windows opened into the orchards: lemons and limes and oranges and acerola and maracujá and pitanga and amora and a grove of jaboticaba trees with fruits so black and sweet you could gorge all day and still leave the branches heavy.

One would think he’d want restful sunsets, but every room in the house was furnished with noble wood and no cushions, each seat as comfortable as the church-pew-bench he napped on, one knee bent, hat covering his face, snoring lightly as his family puttered in ripples emanating from the epicentered porch. I’m not asleep, he’d say if caught, I’m just resting my eyes.

On evenings, he sat on the porch step, pocketknife in hand, peeling sugar cane stalks. He’d peel down to a knot, quarter the tip, cut off a chunk of stalk, and hand a slice to whoever extended a hand, youngest first. He sat on his hard perch for hours, silently filling our mouths with sweetness.

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