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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Farm Children

The slanting morning sun turns the ginkgo into something more like a blazing candle than a tree. But the  children, oblivious to everything that is not the antique tractor, only notice the tree when its branches interfere with their clamoring play. 

"There are still some plums on that tree over there," their grandfather says.

They do not register the offering--not because they do not hear him, or because they do not like plums, but because the sentence itself does not compute in their Midwestern brains.

I walk over to the tree, laden with the last of the dusty purple fruits. "Do you want a plum?" I call over to my children.

"YES!" my son shouts, leaping off the tractor, then pauses. "Wait. Where?" He looks around, confused.

"Right here," I say, pointing to the tree. "You have to choose the one you want."

He and his sister come running, wide-eyed. The small tree, purposefully kept to a height that makes plucking fruit a simple task, offers a wealth of choices to children who have never seen a plum that wasn't stacked in a grocery store display. It takes them a fraction of a second to choose their first plum, but many additional minutes to inspect a dozen more to ensure they have made the right choice before they actually do the picking. We wash off the dust at the outdoor spout, and bite deep into the pale, golden flesh. Tree-ripened to perfection. My son smiles and rolls his eyes in that peculiar way he has to indicate bliss.

Clutching their sticky, half-eaten treasures, the children climb to the top of another piece of once-useful farm equipment. As they munch plums, they look out over the land their father's family farmed for decades.

Three rows of gnarled peach trees mark the limit of their growing. Across the dirt road--in what used to be acres of grape vines tethered to their wires every summer by a boy who remembers the itchy sensation of rising allergies as he worked--the land is leased. The new farmer's tidy rows of baby clementine trees are encased in the high-tech drip irrigation system that has replaced the old irrigation ditch that once doubled as a children's swimming-hole on especially hot days.

My children are not nostalgic for these things. They simply marvel at the plums. "Can we have more?" they want to know.

"Of course," I tell them. I point out the limits of the family property--the rows of peaches on the south side, good for playing under now that the fruit is over, the dirt road the house faces, the bare track where the yard ends on the north side. "You can have anything you like from any of these trees. You don't have to ask permission. You can just pick what you want to eat -- only be sure to wash it first because it's very dusty." I point out the pear tree too. Tossing plum pits on the ground, we walk towards the backyard and spot a pomegranate tree. Pomegranates! So ripe they are literally bursting on the branches.

For an hour, my son sits diligently picking seeds out of the pomegranate, his fingers and face slowly turning crimson. "They look like red teeth," my daughter observes, poking at the fruit. She doesn't care for it too much, so I lead her to the two rows of grape vines that mark the back edge of the yard. Her grandfather has promised there should still be some good grapes back there, "though I didn't take very good care of them this year."

We have to walk past the small vegetable garden--hot peppers, eggplants, tomatoes--all neatly laid out in raised boxes, on our way to the grapes. (You cannot keep a farmer from farming, even when he's retired.) Next we stumble through a confusion of squash vines, hidden from view by the clipped hedge that borders the small lawn. Finally, we reach the grapes--towering, mountainous vines creating perfect hiding spots or forts. "Where are the grapes?" my daughter wants to know. "Look closely," I tell her. And then she spots them. The bunches are few and far between this late in the season, but the grapes, a dusky red, are still firm. She chooses two clusters and carries her treasures back to the spigot to wash them.

We have offered everything we picked to the grandparents, though they smiled and politely declined. "I don't eat much fruit," their grandfather says from his patio recliner. Again, my children seem not to understand. Surrounded by all of this, how can you do anything but gorge yourself on the ripe wonder?

And so they do, eating so much fruit that even the boy who is always hungry is too full to eat lunch.

Later that afternoon, our daughter looks around and says to her father, "This was a good farm." She pauses. "Wasn't it, daddy?"

"Yes," he says to her, "it was a good farm."


Anna Lefler said...

Lovely! I enjoyed this very much...

I hope you're having a fabulous Thanksgiving! Take care and enjoy the bloat...

;-) Anna

Ann Imig said...


Oh I ravage fruit. Pomagranates?? Amazing.

The ending left me with a big old lump in my throat.

anymommy said...

I know we have a good life, but I often something different like this for my children. A bit simpler with chores and worries that lie closer to our day to day needs and leisure that connects us all to each other and the earth. You captured it perfectly.

LceeL said...

When I was a small boy, my grandfather's brother had a fruit farm along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Thank you, for stirring up long dusty memories.

Suburban Kamikaze said...

This should be required reading for the next person who wants to say anything disparaging about the quality of material to be found in the blogging world. Excellent. Like a really nice piece of fruit.



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