Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | December 26, 2012

Our Family Tree

Many years ago my mother planted a seed in the backyard of our family’s home in McAllen, Texas. She was especially excited about this particular seed — one she had taken from a gnarled brown seed pod produced by a Pata de Vaca tree. The Pata de Vaca is so named because its broad green leaves resemble a “cow’s hoof” (the literal translation of the name). Mom nurtured the seed and it grew into a beautiful tree that graced our backyard. Through the years my siblings and I always thought of this tree as Mom’s. After her death in 2009, the Pata de Vaca tree was just one more thing that reminded us all about our beautiful mother. And then earlier this year, a particularly strong storm hit the Rio Grande Valley and blew over hundreds of trees, including the Pata de Vaca in our backyard. We were all saddened by the news that the storm had uprooted Mom’s tree.

Family Tree Seed Pod

After the storm, my Dad and a neighbor spent a full day cleaning up the debris in his yard. Using a chainsaw, they cut the mesquite and oak limbs that littered the yard into manageable sizes, and also the trunk and branches of the Pata de Vaca tree. Laura, my youngest sister, had the presence of mind to keep the Pata de Vaca wood out of the debris pile on the curb. Instead, she kept the remnants of the tree in the backyard, not quite sure what she would do with them but certain that she did not want to send them to the dump. Time passed and the wood just sat and weathered in the backyard. We were all resigned to the fact that Mom’s tree was gone and that the only thing left was the stump and a few branches, sitting in a corner of the backyard.

Yesterday, after Christmas dinner at Dad’s home, Laura announced that she had a special surprise for each of us. She started off by talking about the Pata de Vaca seed that mom had planted and nurtured in the backyard and about the storm that had uprooted the tree. And then, the surprise! Laura told us that she had taken the trunk and branches to a local wood-carver. She commissioned him to make bowls from the trunk and spoons from the branches. Starting at the base and working upwards, the man had carved a bowl for Dad and also for each of us — three sisters and two brothers. When stacked in order, all of the pieces fit together perfectly, making our own unique family tree.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
As Laura disassembled all of the pieces to give each of us our respective bowls, we were all especially pleased to see the shape of our brother’s bowl. When the wood-carver cut the slice that would become our little brother’s bowl, the trunk of the tree at that point was shaped like a heart. Perfect! When our brother Phillip went through a prodigal period in high school, Mom pursued him relentlessly and loved him back into the fold. Phillip always called Mom his special angel for saving his life and Mom always had a soft spot in her heart for Phillip, grateful that God had given him back to her … and to us.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100
So, each of us now have a piece of Mom’s tree in our homes. And each of us know that our respective pieces fit perfectly with the others to form our special family tree and to remind us that we really do need each other. We also talked about how the spoon that each of us received will remind us that our beautiful mother not only nurtured her Pata de Vaca tree in the backyard, but that she also nurtured, cared for, and encouraged each of us throughout the years. This Christmas was the first since Mom died that we have gathered at Dad’s home to celebrate Christmas. It has been too painful for us to be there without Mom so, in previous years, we have gathered elsewhere. That is why of all of the gifts we could have received this year, the bowls and spoons carved from Mom’s tree were the most appropriate and meaningful for each of us. Each of us will treasure them for years to come.


  1. Beautiful! You have an amazing family Omar. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Terry. We all enjoyed our special gift this year!

  2. What a beautiful memory Omar! Thanks so much for sharing this with us. My family is split up on both my husband and my side. At odds with things from the past. I pray every day for God to change their hearts and keep mine open also and focused on Him.

    • Thanks, Pam. Keep praying and don’t lose heart. Blessings.

  3. Wow!! That is amazing! How thoughtful! You have a beautiful family. I love hearing and reading your stories and so glad you share them for us all to enjoy.

    • Thanks, Eva. I appreciate your kind and encouraging words.

  4. such a sweet story and precious memories, so thoughtful of your sweet sister. Clara McSpadden


    • Thank you, Clara. This really was a thoughtful and creative thing to do with the tree. Really a cool surprise.

  5. Your story is a beautiful one. I was so very honored when Laura approached me to work on the remnants of your mother’s tree. I am now humbled as I have become closer to Laura and your family. God does work in mysterious ways. It was by His inspiration that my work was done. I was but a tool in His hands. James T.

    • Thank you, James. Your beautiful work and craftsmanship will have a memorable place in each of our homes. It will always serve as a sweet reminder to us of our beautiful mother who loved and nurtured us.

  6. Oh I loved this post Omar! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family!

    • Thanks, Carol. Happy New Year to you and your family. Regards to the folks in Qatar.

  7. What a beautiful story and such a treasured gift. What a great jesture on the part of your sister! Very unique and beautiful!

    • Thanks, Valerie. This was definitely a great gift!

  8. Omar and Laura, what a beautiful story your shared with us. That was a beautiful momento made from the trunk of your mother’s favorite tree. James Torline and his brother Robert went to St. Joseph’s School in Alamo, Texas. They are good people and came from a beautiful family. James did a great job with his carving. I study genealogy and old south Texas history and this was a beautiful story your shared. Thank you both.

    By the way, I knew a young lady who always visited her uncle at the Alfredo Gonzalez Texas State Home for Veterans in McAllen, TX. She sure looks a lot like her. She was a very nice, friendly and good natured person. I was just curious if it was her.

    Thanks for Sharing your story.

    Ricardo P. Balli
    McAllen, Texas

    • Thanks, Ricardo. The girl you saw at the nursing home was likely my sister, Laura, who helped to care for our uncle who was a resident there. Thank you for your kind comment.

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