BEARING FRUIT

My people have always grown citrus, even in the far northern reaches of Florida, where Old Man Winter occasionally drops a hard freeze. For us, cultivation of citrus is a backyard pursuit — the immense

groves that quench the world’s thirst for orange juice are located several hundred miles to the south. Some of our trees may perish during unusually cold spells, but most live forty or fifty years and bestow bountiful harvests of tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit, season after season.

My father passed this family tradition on to me. Although it has been several years since he died, we are still harvesting fruit from the trees he planted near our home on Kingsley Lake. Two factors contribute to the trees’ hardiness. Warm air rises from the lake in winter and a large canopy of trees blankets our land.

My husband, Ben, and I accepted Daddy’s implicit request to assume the care of our modest grove. I knew Daddy was no amateur. I remember he said he took a full year’s rotation of courses in citrus at the

University of Florida. His grove-caring advice rings in my ears when we buy forty-pound bags of fertilizer,

spread it under the trees, puzzle about how best to control insects, or harvest the fruit.

Care and maintenance of citrus is not difficult, but after Daddy’s death, we neglected some of the chores. But, last year, we made sure to fertilize the half-dozen trees several times before fall. We were rewarded with a bumper crop.

To retrieve fruit from the trees, which have grown to heights of almost thirty feet, we employ a special implement called a picker. The device is comprised of a small basket affixed to a narrow wooden pole. A wire claw with several prongs is suspended over its top.

We position the claw around a piece of fruit, then pull down, hoping the fruit will cooperate and fall neatly into the basket. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t — and I am bothered when even one piece of fruit goes to waste.

Because our picker is unwieldy, fruit often falls to the ground and bursts. I collect all the damaged fruit and stash it in the refrigerator, hoping to consume it in juice, salad, or snacks before it spoils.

Although a bountiful crop is a wonderful thing, at times it strikes me as a burdensome responsibility. Unharvested fruit will eventually fall to the ground and rot. I’d feel guilty if that happened. So during the short days of winter, when the limbs of our trees bow under the weight of their abundant yield, Ben and I spend hours coaxing the fruit to fall into the picker.

We often labor until well after dark, depositing the pro-duce on the ground and gathering it up into plastic bags. While I work feverishly, I see Ben grow tired. His lips draw into a thin, hard line. I feel a little guilty as I urge him to keep at it “… a little while longer, Honey.” I have to wonder that he doesn’t just leave me to finish the job alone.

Awakened by our bountiful crop, these citrus memories are both bitter and sweet. My first and last thought is of Daddy. I visualize him strolling among perfect rows of glossy-leafed trees, pausing to inspect the fruit or choosing a piece to enjoy. Perhaps, in the groves where my father walks now, the harvest is continually gathered, and not a single piece of fruit falls to the ground and spoils.

I smile when I envision what heaven must be like. Peace, order, and plenty. A place where nothing is wasted, and every good thing is savored.

Yes, I think that would be heaven. That would be heaven, indeed.

Mary Bridgman (Jan.’11) adds, “I’ve come to view this piece in a larger-than-story sense: Privilege and bounty invite considerations of responsibility.”

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