In February as winter loosens its feeble grip on the California Delta, I begin to obsess about citrus fruit.
I have a troubled past relationship with oranges. I once concussed myself deploying the front handbrake on my brother’s bike, flipping tail over head as I pedaled through a dirtbike trail near my childhood home. The friend with me dragged my shuddering body and our bikes as far as she could. She left me on the ground and ran for a nearby house. The housewife at home came with her and helped get me to somewhere safe until my older sister could come for me. As I waited, the orange juice which I had drunk for breakfast rose in my throat. I’ve never been able to stand the taste since.
I like ruby red grapefruit well enough. In my home state of Missouri, we only got the real deal for a few weeks each year. I greedily peeled the orbs as most might a Sunkist naval, pulling the fragrant sections apart to nibble and suck the sweet tart juices. Once I could no longer buy what passed for fresh, I resorted to segments packed with light syrup in jars.
But once I moved to California, I discovered an entirely new species of citrus. Mandarin oranges, tangelos, and lemons grow in yards throughout the Delta. At the local Farmers Market From March to May, a bagful costs just a few dollars. I devour three or four each day. My lunchtime salads overflow with fruit. My house fills with the wonderful fragrance. You have not lived until you eat citrus in a California springtime, still bearing bright green leaves warm with the caress of daybreak picked just miles from where you shop.
As summer wanes, the succulent citrus gives way to peaches and pears. The full heat of the place clings to our skin. We wrap our hands around the plump goodness of local stone-fruit. I slice a peach into my great-aunt Bib’s metal dish and eat it before bedtime, savoring the creamy flesh.
When I drive to work each day, a murder of crows sweeps overhead, settling in the old tree on Jackson Slough Road. In the fields, vines glisten with new leaves. Clumps of grapes begin to emerge. I see figures move between the rows of corn. The spring onions have disappeared from the farm stand, yielding to sweet Italian peppers and the neighbor’s ripened pears. I do not quite feel a nip in the air, but the promise of fall lurks in the cooling breeze. I no longer need to run the fan at bedtime.
Soon I will travel to the Midwest. I’m turning sixty-six on Labor Day Weekend. My son will come from Chicago to have lunch with my sister Joyce, my brother Frank, and me. I will study each of them in turn, noticing the leanness of my son’s face; my brother’s grey hair; the crinkles around my sister’s eyes. It is only a matter of time before the cranes arrive for their winter in the California Delta, followed by the snow geese. My fourth year in this magical place draws to a close. I think my journey home will restore my hope for the future. I’ll bring my family’s love back with me, to Andrus Island, where the peaches taste like heaven and winter sits mild upon our shoulders.
It’s the twenty-seventh day of the ninety-second month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.