Do you remember the summer of the perfect pie?
We laughed and cooked in your parents' kitchen, an enormous meal for extended family who had congregated for your upcoming wedding. We were to meet the groom's parents for the first time. That afternoon, we had chosen peaches heavy with fragrance, artistically painted by the sun with a swath of deepest red that faded to a pale tangerine. But with peaches, looks can be deceiving, and so we were prepared merely for pie. We did not expect perfection. As they emerged from the scalding pot, and we slipped off their skins, the astonishing brilliance of their glossy flesh, firm and slippery, tempted us to a taste. Juice running down our arms, we could hardly believe there had ever been better peaches in the history of the world. In the far-too-hot kitchen, we blanched pounds of peaches, marveling over their ripe weight, their astonishing satin fruitfulness, their toothsome yielding to our many many tastes. In the far-too-hot kitchen, we laughed at our own exquisite stickiness. And we made pies. A row of lush, crystalline odes to the golden days of summer and the jubilance of youth.
Do you remember the backyard open house?
It happened in my thirteenth summer. John sat in his shirt-sleeves in the shade, his ageless face peering intently at the heavy metal crank he turned. Was he 65 or 80? We never knew. Teresa emerged from the house bringing him more ice and rock salt and sweet tea. We, the children of the neighborhood, gathered around strangely quiet. Our coltish legs and incessant movements were stilled by the solemn sight of confection in the making. "I think we're 'bout ready," John said, his voice gruff and low. And Teresa brought the peaches, chopped small, and poured them into the vat John was churning. How many hours had it taken her to peel and chop those peaches? The question did not cross our minds. Instead we simply watched, anticipating the moment when John would pronounce the ice cream finished. And then we ate. Deep bowls, bowls that could be refilled as many times as we liked. Bowls and bowls and bowls and bowls of sweet cream softly frozen into perfect peaks and punctuated with plump tree-ripened fruit. Later, when the street lights came on and the June bugs congregated in the puddles of brightness, we leaned on the hood of the car and watched the sparkles in the asphalt twinkle like stars. The lightning bugs filled the trees, and the hum of your voice filled my head, and I realized that peach ice cream and longing tasted identical.
Do you remember your son's first peach?
We had walked over The Farm, and you had pointed out the packing shed where you once spent long late-summer days, and the fields--now houses--that had held your family's groves. You told me your father had kept himself a "little piece" of land, just ten acres, and that he still had a few fruit trees. "But they're mostly peaches," you said with some contempt. I could hardly believe that you did not like peaches, but the fuzz, you said, the fuzz used to get so thick in the packing shed that sometimes you had to wear a mask. All that fuzzy furry skin...to this day, you didn't want to touch it. And so, I waited until you were preoccupied, and I quietly went out to the trees nearest the house to choose some peaches. Enormous fragrant globes, paler than I'd expected, but promised to be ripe, hung silent, waiting. I made my choices slowly, carried them inside. And when I cut into them, I felt foolish for mistrusting a farmer's word on the ripeness of his fruit. Your son and I sat, juices running down our chins, grinning at each other, and eating peach after peach at the table where you'd grown up. Satiated at last, he looked at me and chortled as only babies can. And so I mashed him one more bite of golden summer and we shared a glimpse into your childhood.
Do you remember the wretched cobbler?
Bitter beyond belief, it was ruined by a mis-read recipe. All the promise of seven sweet peaches, all the anticipation of an afternoon, dissolved on the very first bite. "I was going to take one for the team," you told me, "and try to finish mine. But I don't think I can." Of course you could not. It was inedible. "I cut up the butter," our son said, "and sprinkled the sugar." Our daughter piped up, "I poured the milk." And my deep disappointment also began to dissolve. We three, so intently fixed on making our family dessert, had stirred and spread, tasted and collaborated, breathing deeply the aroma of a sticky summer afternoon. "I don't want to eat this cake," said our daughter. "You don't have to eat it, darlin'," I told her, "it's terrible cake." I looked ruefully at the dish of cobbler, and then up at you, "I wouldn't feed this to pigs," I said. And as I scooped her more ice cream instead, you smiled sympathetically at me and replied, "Oh, sweetie, I would give this to pigs." Hooting with laughter, I picked out a slice of still-warm peach to eat with my ice cream.
Did you know?
Peaches are the taste of love.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Do you remember the summer of the perfect pie?