In my hand I hold a wizened orange. It got lost behind a bag of cereal and the sugar jar, just under the kitchen window. Said window, missing trim now for a year from a rehab project for which Husband has not found time to finish. I could do it, but it was not my project. Thus a few nights of cold dry air seeping under the window turned this lovely fruit into- what?
If I was Martha Stewart (and I am not) I would probably advise myself to Go ahead! dry out a couple more, hot glue them with bay leaves onto a grape vine wreath for a decorative piece on the front door. No offense to Martha, I admire her: the divorced mom- spurned even though she did it all like she was supposed to, jailed for fuzzy reasons, no-nonsense boss, funny, getting old with wit and style woman. But I do not confuse the woman with the hype, the product, and the M.S. magazine reading, Oprah attending types for whom the new mothering magazine Cookie has been designed. These women I generally avoid comparison to. You know who I am talking about- a largely affluent, white, appearance obsessed base, aged 22-55. Living in those June Cleaveresque, strained superficialities of homes, no desiccated orange will be found.
After 55 I think these women just get drunk, break a few dishes and emancipate themselves, shoving the magazines into the trash and going out for a walk. At least, I hope they do. Because we have no magazines or films or TV to tell us what they do, only our personal experiences, our own mothers. Entertainment executives dont think they merit attention, are off the collective cultural radar except for rare parody or soppy Lifetime snoozers.
This orange? This once ripe fruit, bursting with sensuous scent, firm flesh and bright appeal? No, decoration is not for this objet d’art. I am compelled to take a knife to the hard skin, see if it still retains any smell, and sate my curiosity about what is inside. Is it black? Is it soft and rotted? Or is it stringy and hard, all the moisture drawn away? My bet is on the latter, given how much it weighs. I could toss it into the compost heap, that big box of organic matter we started in the back yard. Where that compost will go next year is in question. Our lovely black walnut tree, offering such cool shade in the summer, so good at keeping down weeds, is I just found out a poisonous, selfish thing. Easily one third of our yard is hostile to anything but grass and the off-spring of the Big Walnut. The only stretch of yard that nurtured my crazy striped tomatoes has become another in-progress home improvement site. So what of this orange, this possible compost? I am not sure where it will go now.
I have been told by a young friend whose family runs a large cherry farm in Washington State that we really dont know fruit in the U.S. Most of the good fruit gets sold to Japan, and most of our fruit is so engineered, so greenly picked, that it has no flavor, no textures, no taste. Having read Epitaph for a Peach- four seasons on my family farm (Mas Masumoto, Harper San Francisco / Harper Collins, June 1995), I knew fruit, like many things in the U.S., had become something other than the celebrated production of the fertile, ripened ovary of a flowering plant. When I was pregnant, the only smell that could curb my nausea was that of a fresh orange. Oranges revive the spirit, as well as the body. Oranges glow, and color even the most drab scene- meriting its own crayon, a very own color concept.
My mother used to put an orange every year in our Christmas socks (those felt creations no more useful on a foot than the plastic fruit in her table bowl to our stomachs) and we would take the oranges out on Christmas morning, thinking to ourselves What the heck is this about? tossing them aside. Later when she was clearing the torn paper, broken bows, and empty boxes she would sigh as she picked the fruit up and put it back in the kitchen. Only once did she ever tell me that as a child, she had gotten an orange every Christmas, as had her mother before her. Oranges used to be rare, a treat every bit as wonderful to a child as candy. In the Little House on the Prairie books, I recall the iconic scene when Laura gets an orange and is thrilled. Now days, if I can find an organic, reasonably fresh California orange (I have given up on Florida. The state ag powers are not interested in demanding decent worker conditions, restraining pesticide use, or ever offering anything edible) I am thrilled. Hence my guilt at discovering this sad shriveled specimen. My sons like oranges, and I had saved this one for them, putting aside my greed. It silently slipped away, and was forgotten.
Excess at Christmas is more than just the toys, the noise, the lights and general public pandemonium. It is as simple as having access to fruit everyday, even if it is not the best fruit, and forgetting it is there. Once forgotten and now found, what does one do with a desiccated orange? Alas, poor orange! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath been eaten but a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those pips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now?
This orange, like my mother, is gone. All that is left is the memory of the orange, the knowledge of what a good orange is. I place the desiccated wonder on the sill to ponder further, to remind me of what is passing. Merry Christmas, mom. The boys will have fresh oranges in their socks this and every year, as often as the fruit is available to us, and I will not wait to tell them all the reasons why. I hope I never live to see the horrors of Soylent Green or Silent Spring, and I hope one of the last scents I smell when I go to meet you is that of a fragrant, fully realized orange.