Monday, August 21, 2006
Every time our doorbell rings, the common ding-dong sound fires the “go spastic” neurons in my little dog’s brain. I have to make my way to the door while hopping over and around her like I’m running an obstacles course. Only this obstacle speeds around like a race track rabbit darting between my feet, and if I accidentally step on this obstacle, I will kill it.
Anyway, that’s what happened the other day, and after the five-alarm, red alert lollapalooza was over, I opened the door, and there stood my daughter’s boyfriend, who works in a peach orchard, holding out two pecks of peaches in white paper bags with raffia-like handles.
I like this kid more and more. So does the dog. She has ceased peeing when he pets her.
He’s a quiet boy, about 6’ tall, with longish hair, sinewy arms and legs and bony knees. It’s OK to say his knees are bony because we were just discussing their appearance the other day, and he is totally comfortable in his own knees. I should be so confident about the little fat pouches on my knees. How does a person accumulate fat on her knees caps? If fat knees were considered as sexy as collagen lips, I could be Angelina Jo-knee.
(Not my knee, but you get the picture. FYI: There is actually a knee deformity called "Hoffa's Fat Pad")
Anyway, he just stood there, smiling, with his offering of peaches, knowing how happy I would be to receive them. He just keeps racking up points in my book. One time he earned 1,648 points because he said my house “smelled good,” which ranks right up there with, “Have you lost some weight?”
After Sunday dinner, when my family had gone its own way, I set up a private little oasis at the kitchen sink, which was basically peaches and a radio. Wow. A fruit and a radio--it just occurred to me that I’m a really simple kind of gal. Anyway, I indulged in two of my favorite things—ripe peaches and A Prairie Home Companion.
I discovered A Prairie Home Companion when I was a mother of three in my twenties. I had outgrown favorite music from my teen years, and I was sick of current pop songs that never strayed from the romance-is-everything theme. I knew better. Like I said, I was a mother of three in my twenties. Romance isn’t everything when you haven’t slept through the night in six years.
A Prairie Home Companion resurrected my imagination. I didn’t nod off during the broadcast like I did when holding a book, and I could listen while my kids were in the room without them realizing they weren’t the center of my universe for an hour or so a week or without them learning "bad" words.
Garrison Keillor’s voice swept me away when I was a prisoner to that little throw rug I stood on while washing dishes or peeling potatoes. Funny how the kitchen sink was like a small cell back then, and it can be an oasis now.
When GK told about Pastor Ingvist from Lake Wobegon or made jokes about English majors, I remembered that I had once been tied to people and places besides my kids and the kitchen sink. A thousand years ago (2 or 3, actually) I had been an English major at Ball State University. Now I was a mom in Findlay, Ohio. How did that happen?
Sorry for the tangential excursion. I mean to talk about peaches.
Peaches so juicy and slick that just trying to grip one to peel it made it pop straight up into the air so that I had to scramble to catch it. So ripe that I could pull the skin off in long strips.
As I peeled and listened, my mind wandered.
I remembered how my mom always used a great big, scary butcher knife to peel vegetables (we never ate unpeeled potatoes or cucumbers). When I was older and saw that other people generally don’t peel with butcher knives (how embarrassing to discover these awful peculiarities about your family when you’re a teenager) I asked her why she used it. She said, “It’s what I learned with, and I can peel really fast. I never dig into the fruit. My peels are paper thin.” Anxious to show her up with my sophisticated peeler, I challenged her to a potato peel-off. I used the modern tool, and she used her samurai sword.
She won, of course.
Mother had been peeling potatoes since she was four. Her mother was blind and bedfast, and she would tell my mother to pull up a stool to the sink and then instruct her step by step on how to peel the potatoes and make biscuits. So basically, my mother, a typical 1950s housewife until the 1980s or so, had stood at a kitchen sink from the time she was four until all of her children were grown. She never complained about slaving in the kitchen. She loved to cook for her family.
The first pie I ever made was peach pie. My dad loved it. I mean he really loved it. I’ve never made a pie as good since—or at least one that brought me as much satisfaction and pride.
Peach crisp was my favorite school lunch dessert. That brown cinnamon square was the only food that looked appetizing sitting there in the recessed space of the pale green tray.
I decided to make two crisps so that we could eat one and share one. I always double the topping so that every bite of peach has some crunchy brown sugar with it.
Out of nowhere I thought of a pun I read when I was a kid, “You are a peach. If we cantaloupe, lettuce marry. We’d make a swell pear.” Funny how insignificant, random memories tap you on the shoulder. I wondered if that’s what Alzheimer’s feels like.
The word for peach in French is “pêche.” I know this because my French pen pal once corrected my embarrassing idiomatic mistake. I had written that a certain joke he made “cracked me up,” to which he responded, “Don’t ever say that in French again—it is very offensive. Instead, you want to say, ‘Je fende ma pêche.’”
Literally, this means, “I split my peach.” Figuratively, it means, “I laughed my head off.” Hmmmm. Why does splitting my peach sound way more risqué and offensive than cracking me up? It’s all cultural, I guess.
As I listened to Guy Noir and split my peaches, literally, the scent was crazy good. No manufactured aroma can compare to the one emanating from the perfect little fresh peach--fruity tartness, spicy greenness of orchards, natural sweetness, and God’s secret ingredient that he refuses to sell to potpourri and candle makers. You cannot hold a ripe peach to your nose and inhale without closing your eyes. It’s like a good kiss; you automatically shut everything else out.
“I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” I used to sing that to Katie when she was little. She’ll be 20 next month. In her first Easter basket, I included a jar of baby food peaches because she was too little for candy.
Her skin was so soft—like little baby peach fuzz. So many times I have put my nose down in her neck and smelled her baby sweetness. I remember closing my eyes with inexpressible joy. She eclipsed everything in my life.
I left her in her college dorm yesterday. I put my nose in her neck when I hugged her goodbye.
I listened and peeled, remembered and peeled, smiled and peeled.
Peaches can mean a lot of things.