Today’s post is a bit personal. Please be kind.
Every Picture Tells a Story
Peaches have grown in California since settlers brought them to the region over dry creek beds, vast mountain ranges, and roaring rivers. With names like Arctic Supreme, Fay Elberta, Forty Niner, Redwing, and Somerset, the dreams and joys of many people are wrapped up in the notion of a peach. Sweet, sticky, juicy and maybe most important of all, fleeting; the peach can transport, enrich, and deepen one’s experience of summer.
The peach is a member of the rose family. Peaches and roses. With all things sweet, there are thorns and trade offs. I learned about trade offs in the summer of my seventh year. My mother had just moved us back to California. We were living in Auburn as if it was a way station, a stop along the way, after her heroine addict husband died in a car wreck in Wyoming during a snowstorm. Now that he was gone she could get my two young brothers back from the foster home she had put them in shortly after marrying him.
Auburn was a place where we regrouped and learned again to be a family. I shared a bedroom with my two brothers for many years after that. I may have said from time to time that I wanted my own bedroom but sleeping in the same room with them felt safe. I could listen to them breathe, deep sleepy breaths, labored at times over some bad dream, but other dreams would take their place and restore that soft breathing which reminded me that we were all together and safe.
Anne Marie looked like Shirley Temple in the movie Bright Eyes and she was my best friend. Because she was my best and only friend, she held a preeminent place in my life. Her mother, Marta, was good friends with my mother and so there were many opportunities for us to get together and play. We created imaginative lives full of rich stories of redemption and reward. Every story featured a heroine who was wronged at first but in the end always ended up with all the riches both symbolic and tangible.
One day we were left with a teenage boy to be looked after while our mothers picked up their welfare checks and took care of errands. The house they dropped us at had many windows and a little dog. As the dog yipped and snapped at our ankles our mothers drove away in someone’s borrowed car. The boy let us go through his music albums and we chose what we wanted to listen to. The sun streamed in through large many paned windows across the floral couch and sparkling glass-topped table. We lay on the cream-colored plush rug digging our toes into the long soft fibers with our long tangled hair splayed out around us like one of those drawings of the sun with many long rays spilling out all around, listening to Rod Stewart wail about Maggie May. We listened to the song over and over, singing along as the morning lazily turned to early afternoon.
He made us lunch and we sat at a small table in what can only be described as a breakfast room. Surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows, a delicately woven floral rug covered the blond wood floor underneath our feet. He placed before us a cheese and bologna sandwich and a peach. As I ate my sandwich I could smell the juicy, almost cloyingly sweet peach. The colors of the peach were only heightened by light pouring through the windows. I don’t know if I had ever had a peach before, but this peach was like no other; juice dripping down my wrists and chin. Soft and tender flesh tinged rose with summer kissed color. Sweet, rich with flavor; this peach was a song and a summer day all wrapped up in one luscious bite.
You lured me away from home cause you didn’t want to be alone
You stole my heart I couldn’t leave you if I tried
As we listened to Rod explain to us what grown up life was like, as we sang along while finishing this amazing peach; I had a new awareness of my place in the world. I knew in that moment that I would never, ever, have another peach like that one. That very peach I was greedily devouring was the best peach of all. A sunny day with my best friend in a beautiful home where we could lounge on clean floors listening to a boy sing about his broken heart I knew this was one of those moments. Those moments when time stops and you see yourself experiencing something profound and fleeting.
About six months later, by the side of the freeway, Anne Marie was held for the last time in her mother’s sobbing arms as the last drops of life drained out of her. When the car crossed the median and crashed into another vehicle traveling south Anne Marie was flung through the windshield to land far off on the bank of the freeway.
By that time my mother had moved us to an old miner’s log cabin in the Sierras. We moved in with her nineteen year old boyfriend who had found this new home for us. We brought with us twelve baby chicks all of whom died within a week of moving there. The winters are cold and the drafts that swept under the doors and through the cracked windows were inhospitable to most life.