Apricots. Falling from the tree with loud plunks as they hit the H/A unit; sometimes arriving whole and only slightly dented or bruised at the point of impact; sometimes smashed flat, the sun kissed skin split wide and the goldenish-orangey inner flesh oozing out, its juice running rivulets through the dust and leaves on the metal casing. Those that missed the H/A unit and landed in the grass,often look deceptively perfect until turned over to reveal the flesh half eaten away by birds and the remaining half now crawling with ants and buzzing with mites.
The wastefulness of this drives Mother crazy and because it drives her nuts, guess who also gets to go nuts? Me, of course. I’m ok with the birds and the bees and the squirrels and the bugs getting a few of the apricots, after all, that’s fewer that we have to deal with, right? But, no, not Mother. She remembers all the years when the tree provided lugs and lugs of fruit and Daddy climbed the ladder and used the nine foot fruit picker pole and that was a sight to see, believe you me.
This went on for twenty-five plus red years, Daddy got the fruit in and Mother blanched and iced and cut off the peal bandage and poured in the FruitFresh to keep the apricots from turning brown and then they were sealed in freezer burn containers and stacked in the stand-up freezer in the garage. And when the freezer was iceberg full and Mother’s energy gone, lugs of apricots went to the church and all the people steeple happily took home a bag full.
And Daddy and Mother were grateful for the apricots and grateful for the plums, both the purple plums and the green plums, and Daddy planted Thompson seedless grapes along the east fence and Concord grapes next to the house along the east fence and Daddy plowed up a section of the yard and planted tomatoes and planted cucumbers and planted squash and daily he weeded and he watered and he fed the plants and he and Mother reaped a harvest.
It was always fun to come visit in the summer or early fall when there was this fruit and vegetable bounty. I could indulge in eating and go home satisfied and somehow evaded all the work involved or if I visited during the winter, there were containers of plums or apricots from the freezer to go along with dinner. My nieces in Northern California remember the fruit years best of all the grandchildren because in those years, Daddy and Mother made sure to pack up the fresh fruit bounty when they went traveling along that black ribbon that wound north, pulled along by an invisible tie that drew them hungrily to their grandchildren in an arrival made sweeter with bright apricot and purple plum and green and concord grape lushness. Their fewer but longer trips following undulating mirages across the desert to New Mexico and Texas and Tennessee were trips too far for taking fruit very often so those grandchildren did not know what they had missed.
Its thirty years this summer since Daddy and Mother first moved in and began their affair with fruit. The yard is changed now. The small apricot and the green gage plum and the purple plum trees aged and dried up and had to come down. The large apricot tree has some dead spots and while it is still huge, it produces fewer and fewer apricots these days. In fact, this year, the apricots are few and small and for once, I agree with Mother that I should get out and get the fruit before the birds and the bugs and the bees and the squirrels do because this year’s crop is not very large. Still, large enough that unless some get prepared and into the freezer, they will go bad.
And so, today, Mother got up a little earlier to attack the apricots. She washed the plastic freezer containers and pulled out the largest stock pots and sorted apricots and said,
“You’re going to help me.”
This was new. All those years of preparing fruit, she had never needed help. Nor was I ever interested in learning the craft. This is puzzling to her; so foreign to her experience; but she’s not trying to teach me, today she’s trying to get a job done before she fatigues out or is in too much pain to go on. I bring in a ten pound bag of ice from the freezer and carry the stock pots brimming with water to the stove and turn on the burners. When the water has boiled, I carry a pot back to the sink and pour it over the apricots she has washed. She sets the timer and in just a few seconds we’re dumping out the boiling water and dumping the apricots into an ice bath, then lifting the apricots out of the water and into the empty stock pot. And she begins to peel the apricots and place them in the freezer containers. I go back to what I was doing on the computer and I hear her sighing and moaning and fussing about feral cats in the yard irritating the birds.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if you sat down?”
“Yes,” she sighs heavily, “but it means pulling out the cutting board and getting the stool over here and finding something for me prop up my feet and it’s just too much work.” She stops peeling apricots and tries to stretch the kink out of her shoulders but her scoliosis keeps her crooked and there’s nothing that stretches that out.
I pull out the cutting board, balance it on the utensil drawer, get the kitchen stool and a small stool for her feet and find a large towel for her lap and in less than three minutes she’s seated and ready to continue.
I go back to the next room where I’m working at the desk and she starts telling stories about years of apricots and fruit they took to people and people who shared fruit with them and her sighs and moans have stopped.
“All done.” She says.
I clear off the cutting board and move it so that she can get up and I help her off the kitchen stool and when she has taken a few moments to straighten herself out, she reaches for her cane and says,
“I’m going to go survey my kingdom.” And she heads for the back door and the yard and the flower garden.
“Good idea, Mother.”
And so we’re done with apricots for another year. They’re ready to go to the freezer; the grapes won’t be ready ‘til mid or late summer, and the peach and nectarine trees that Daddy planted, but never got to taste of their fruit before he died, will be ready in the next two months and the apples sometime in the fall and the grapefruit around Christmas or the first of the next year.
Mother struggles with the loss of her productivity and the loss of the familiar of all the years with Daddy when they worked side by side. As for me, I struggle with all the work that has little meaning for me; and I get irritated at how slow she moves and at her ready view of any event through the lens of a worst case scenario. Sure, I enjoy the fruit, but very much of it and my blood sugar does flip-flops and besides, there are so many other things I’d rather do with my time than pick and clean and take care of fruit.
How ungrateful is that, God? I’m living in this bounty and looking right past the blessing while Mother is slowly moving beyond this blessing to her eternal blessing with You and she’s already grieving the leaving. I guess we’re both a pretty good imitation of the human condition, God. Thank you, that there’s You to lift us up above our pettiness and remind us to look beyond ourselves and see that it all comes from You. Thank you, for the fruit and the work that it takes. And suddenly I see how like the human condition that is – that things worth having take work.