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  • Dan Albert Samson de Padua

Weeds




            From the point of view of a seven-year-old, much closer to the ground, they looked like pretty, little daisies growing on the side of the road in the bleaker part of the long walk home from school. We had full-sized, proper daisies at home, red and orange, planted along the driveway, cultivated, watered, tended, appreciated; but these vagrant yellow flowers on the roadside were fighting for their own space, pushing out against gravel, inserting themselves in cracks in the concrete; yet they bore their struggle with a sunny disposition that called out for just a little bit of attention. I picked a few of the nicest ones and brought them home to Mom, the botanist.

 

            “These are weeds,” she said, “but they’re beautiful. Thank you.”

 

            Tridax procumbens, native to the Americas, maybe they were brought here by the Thomasites, more likely they arrived inadvertently together with sunflowers, papayas, the boogie, blue jeans, sitcoms, and the preamble to our Constitution. I can’t see these mini daisies without remembering my mother, not that I want to associate her with weeds, but we don’t control our triggers, they control us. It’s no small coincidence, I think, that I chanced on the flowers again here in our village around this time of year because Mom was born on the 14th of the month 92 years ago.

 

            Ludivina Samson de Padua, “Ning” to friends, “Mommy” to us, used to take dried twigs from around the yard, and she’d turn them into Christmas décor. It was pretty much the pattern for her life’s work. She took obscure plants that seemed to grow everywhere but were known only to arbularios, and she taught anyone who would listen about their wonderful medicinal properties. She popularized the lagundi shrub and now cough medicines based on it are among the leading remedies bought in drugstores. She gathered the pansit-pansitan growing wild in damp corners and brewed strange decoctions—greenish liquid in jars with twisted stems and leaves floating about. Today pansit-pansitan tea is a well-known cure for gout.

 

This habit of hers of taking items overlooked by others and building them into things that can not be ignored extended to her lab as a whole. She was assigned a space in one of the oldest buildings on campus. The ancient wooden floors sagged and swayed as people walked around. Nevertheless, the work she did there on medicinal plants vaulted the old lab to national prominence and attracted international grants and awards.

 

            The little seminars she gave around the country to barangay women’s clubs on herbal gardens grew into research, study, and teaching projects around the world. Even then, she didn’t go to New York or Los Angeles. Instead, she traveled to locations few people dream of, and she found them fascinating. She spent months in places like Colombo, Sri Lanka; Kathamandu, Nepal; and Cardiff, Wales; and she came home with stories of still-running 1950s cars, towering Himalayas, and rugged castles on wind-blown cliffs.

 

            Mom celebrated our littlest accomplishments, say, being able to walk home alone or remember the scientific names of weeds, and she gave us the confidence to strike out into the world on our own and become whatever we wanted to be.

 

            She looked at weeds and said they were beautiful.

 

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