This evening I walked our acre of land with my son. We’ve only lived here a little less than a year, just enough time for him to graduate from crawling to walking to running. Even with a toddler and all of the fixes we had to make, we managed to get our fruit trees planted before the winter rains. A few will bear fruit at the end of the summer.
As we walked out into the warm evening I lifted him high so he could harvest mulberries from the tree that was a mystery until it started producing small black berries. Next we stopped at our garden beds to pick the few strawberries that were ripe. No doubt he recorded my promises as I carried him up the hill, passing some fledgling fruit trees:
“See these green things, they’ll become plums. These are tiny peaches, already turning red and orange.”
High on the kingly thrown of my shoulders he grunted his approval. Assessing his looming fruit bounty is very serious business.
Whenever he first receives a clutch of strawberries from us he won’t eat them but will instead gather them close to his chest and grunt proudly. If he’s feeling brazen the grunting will become celebratory huffing. Only after a few final deep sighs will he devour each perfect food, so well made to fit in his hands and be chewed by his tiny, fat-tongued mouth. Eating is accompanied by deeply satisfied growls. These sounds are the songs of ancient animal joy.
I remember when I didn’t care about fruit at all. Eating it was a chore recommended by an authority on food and life and health and happiness. It could have been a parent or a government agency, it really didn’t matter. Fruit loses its value when it is prescribed as medicine. Better to be a king like my son with fruit as the lofty homage paid by your subjects. He has taught me to give fruit its due attention. Are the spots on my banana just right? Are my strawberries too firm? What will the ramifications of these two oranges really be?
When he woke up from his afternoon nap today he could not be consoled. He cried and then begrudgingly jawed his dinner. He whined and drank his water. He played with his toys and cried some more. Then we offered him plums and all the tears disappeared. The first one brought him back to a state of equilibrium. The second brought serene happiness.
These are not plums from his kingdom, they came in a box of veggies delivered by a local organic farmer. Every week we ceremoniously place the box in the center of the kitchen, awaiting the inevitable assault. He passes us greens and lettuce in search of fruit treasures that lay hidden at the bottom. He always claims those for himself, but he is not selfish. For a small trade he’ll let go of that apple, for now at least. The king has taken stock and will not forget.
I love to cook for him, but food that comes straight from the earth and into your mouth has special power. It nourishes us in ways nothing else can. I want to mourn now the day when fruit will become a chore to him, just to make it less painful for me. Chocolate and potato chips will replace the lure of grapes and pears. I’ll have to leave the Eden of childhood for a second time in my life. The snake had it right, eat that apple while you can. You’re gonna leave the Garden anyways, may as well enjoy the grub.
I can’t remember when a piece of fruit meant the difference between a good and a bad day for me, maybe you never forgot. When my son eats fruit every particle of it gets sucked right down into the bottom of his soul. That’s epic fruit. I do my best to see that he always has a chance to enjoy his food that way, but I can only do that by enjoying it that way myself. Tomorrow evening there will be strawberry worship in our garden. Join us if you can.