Fruits of Her Labor

By: Yael Farzan

My grandmother expresses her love in fruits.

Because she is a classic Sephardic Jewish grandmother, she is preoccupied with food. And feeding us. Even now, when I’m twenty, she still calls me weekly. I am halfway across the country, but the first thing she always asks is, “Yael Joonie (Persian for “dearie”), what have you been eating lately?”

She especially adores fruits, and the childhood memories I have of the seasons are categorized with these fruits:

Spring in my mind is apricots, their pits carved out cleanly; soft green avocados, peeled and cut in long, creamy slices; mangos, cold and slippery and bright yellow, that we would pick up with our hands even when she gave us a fork. Strawberries, too, with the green leaves cut off.  And pineapple – she carried heavy prickly pineapples home from the market and spent at least an hour washing and cutting them up for us. We would be playing, and she would call, “Children! Come eat the apple pie!” We would giggle at her mispronunciation, and she would retort, “Apple pie, pineapple – same thing!”

Summertime meant blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and watermelon. There was no shortage either – she bought so many of those little clear boxes of berries and washed each box carefully, one by one, and combined all the berries into a bowl. I remember coming home from camp every day to see my grandmother sitting at the breakfast table, the sun’s rays spilling light on her from the open windows. Wearing a pastel-pink cotton gown, SAS slippers, and large plastic reading glasses (“the better to see the fruits with, my dear”), she would be surrounded by a grand array of her colorful subjects: a huge bowl of berries, right next to the plate of fresh-cut, cold watermelon, and the bowl of sliced red peaches, too.

In the fall she would buy hard, juicy figs, and tell us that we should remember to eat the whole fig, including the peel. I remember her washing them in a bowl by the sink, then hobbling over slowly and putting them down on the table, the drops of water still glistening on the figs. We would murmur something (I hope it was thanks) but continue with whatever we were doing, because we were young. Now we know better.

She would sit on the chair, hunched over, un-seeding pomegranates one seed at a time. The result? Hundreds and hundreds of tiny red pomegranate seeds that we would take for granted. She put them in a Tupperware container and gave us spoons and told us to eat. Then, the next day, she would give us the leftover pomegranate seeds to take to school as snacks. Now, I cannot believe I just popped the seeds in my mouth quickly, the pleasure of their taste lasting only a tiny fraction of the process taken to prepare them.

I left in the winter. Winter meant pink grapefruit (which she would peel completely for us, down to the red juiciness inside), little tangerines, and oranges.

But especially the oranges.

My grandmother has an orange tree in her backyard of which she and my grandfather are incredibly proud. My grandfather would water it every day, and my grandmother would stand by and point to oranges that were ripe. Then my grandfather would shuffle slowly to his ladder, climb up, and stretch to pick the chosen ones, the best ones. When I got home, she would have the sour, yellow, delicious orange slices on a little China plate for me, and say proudly, “These are from our tree!”

And as I got older, even if I wasn’t hungry, I would take the orange slices, compliment their deliciousness, and finish the entire plate—because if there was one thing that gave my grandmother happiness, it was her grandchildren eating (especially fruits), and if there was one thing that broke her heart, it was her grandchildren not finishing their plates and scurrying off. She’d look sadly at the half-eaten figs, the remaining pomegranate seeds, the fresh cashew nuts she had painstakingly cracked by hand, and keep looking and looking and looking until someone finished the fruits, and then she would break out into a wide, filling smile.

She cried every day for a week before I left. I was heading off to college in Manhattan, and to me, it was just a plane ride away from California. To my grandmother, I was travelling to the other side of the world.

She made my favorite foods every day – pancakes in the morning and eggplant every night – and of course, she brought me her oranges daily, working overtime, double-shifts. I would eat them, with the orange drops of juice dripping all over the plate, and I would exclaim because I knew it made her happy.

The day before I left, she came to see me off. She brought a huge bag with her and told me to fit it into my suitcase. “I don’t have room, Mamanjooni (Grandma)!” I told her.

“Oh no,” she trailed off, and just looked inside her bag, and looked and looked and looked, a little sadly.

My mother motioned silently. “Wait, I’ll make room!” I said quickly. I opened her bag. Inside, there were little Tupperware containers packed to the brim with orange slices.

“These are from our tree,” she offered. “I took down all our oranges from the tree and saved them to give to you.”

I hugged her and thanked her, and sat on the ground to try and fit them into my already-stuffed suitcase. And then I was off.

I got a call as soon as I got to the airport. She had to give me instructions about the oranges. “Make sure to refrigerate them as soon as you get to your dormitory,” she insisted.

And after I had eaten them, I called her to say thank you, and she laughed, voice cracking, and my grandfather had to take the phone.

Every phone call after that, I remembered to thank her for the oranges.

“I miss your oranges, Mamanjooni.” And she would laugh delightedly and I could hear her smile seep through the phones from her house in California, land of the oranges, to my cell phone in Manhattan.

“I miss your oranges,” I would say when she would ask when I was coming home, and I would tell her three months, and she would sigh.

This lasted for a few months until one day she called and asked me how I get mail in the dorm. “Do you have to go to the post office? If I need to send you something, can I just write your address?” I answered her questions, but told her she didn’t need to send me anything. “I’m fine here, Grandma.”

“No, no, don’t worry,” she insisted,

“I’m sending you our oranges!”

Her love expressed in fruits.  “I’m sending it with next-day delivery,” she continued happily, “so they won’t go bad and so you can eat them tomorrow!”

This time, we switched roles.  “I miss you, Mamanjooni,” I whispered.

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