"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

One Perfect Pear

The rhythm of the seasons is reflected in the produce available at my favorite farmer's market. Starting with strawberries in June, through the summer's abundant variety of fruits and vegetables, to the pumpkin patch this month. Each visit offers me something new, some delicious treasure I've been waiting for since the year before. The arrival of the first cherries, or the first sweet corn, or the first new crop apples makes me as happy as an eagle sighting.

Some of the produce is from other parts of the state - areas known for the perfection of the conditions  for growing orchard fruits in particular. So when I walk into the market so see huge wooden bins in the center, I know I'm in for a treat. Recently one of the bins was full of Bartlett pears - huge hard green knobby things holding nothing more than the promise of sweetness available only to those willing to be patient.

With my hands caressing the new fruit, I traveled back fifty years to my childhood home where Mom would wait eagerly for the truck from Yakima carrying crates of peaches and pears - fruit that couldn't be grown in our short North Idaho summers. I could smell the simple syrup and the pressurized steam and the hot pear perfume created as we canned what would be our winter desserts. I could see her usually stern and angry face softened by the heat and contentment.

I remembered getting to choose one pear from the boxes, which we'd been watching for days to catch the fruit at its perfect point of ripeness. It was not an easy choice. There could be no bruises or green showing - not too ripe or too unripe. I wanted the biggest one I could find. I wanted perfection.

The first bite was always the best. Teeth sinking into flesh that resisted only slightly and then a mouth filled with sweetness that was too much to contain and that flowed down my chin. Not chewing exactly, but pressing the fruit against the roof of my mouth so that the flavor filled my head. Then bite after bite, not waiting to completely swallow the previous mouthful, until their was nothing left but a stem with a clump of seeds hanging from it. And a deep deep almost drunken sense of satisfaction.

In the time between that childhood and now, I found myself living with a group of people who were as self-sufficient as possible as part of our belief system. Canning pears was a different experience shared with three or four other women in a kitchen meant to be common ground but really the territory of the eldest in our midst. We put up enough - not just pears, but peaches, cherries, beans, tomatoes, applesauce -  to feed four families and visitors through the winter.

As the newest member, a handmaiden, it was my job to peel the pears just as it had been in childhood, which I didn't mind. In part because it allowed me to quietly choose and set aside one perfect pear for my own enjoyment. Personal pleasure was frowned on, as was anything that wavered from a strict set of rules. But somehow no one ever noticed my claiming that small jewel of delight as we worked in obedience to our calling.

The resident cat, a young marmalade tom, strolled through the market bringing me back into the present and scattering ghosts like so many mice into the fall air.

I don't can any more, haven't for years, so didn't need to ask for crates. The women who were my guides, for better or for worse, are gone from my life now. Mom reduced to a crone-like body in a nursing home conversing with ghosts of her own. My fellow followers gone to lives far from my knowing.

 But still there is the power to choose one pear, to bring it home and set it in a place of honor where I can watch it ripen into perfection. And where I can indulge in the singular pleasure of losing myself in the sensory wonder of fragrance and juice and flesh, the experience a spark bright enough to carry me through to next year.

photo from healthmed.com


Jerri said...

" conversing with ghosts of her own."

Like the pairs of your choosing, this phrase is perfect.

neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

This reminds me of the verse, to everything there is a season.

From fresh, young, green, ripe, to aged, back to young [the cat] and fresh [the pear]. From the past, to now. Such sadness about your mum to the joy of holding a fruit. The cycle of life.

Oh, and there's the symbolism of fruit.

Midlife Roadtripper said...

So much of yourself you give here, Catbird Scout. In regard to pears, you had my mouth watering. Send some of those my way - this morning I took a bite from one in my possession. Horrible. Tossed it and wasn't even shameful of wasting food. Poor excuse for a pear.

So much more I want to say...

I'm sorry about your mom.

Wander to the Wayside said...

How do you do that? Weave a divine story out of a pear?

colbymarshall said...

This is a nice post! And it also kind of reminds me of choosing manuscript ideas! Picking that perfect one from a lot and letting it ripen. I like thinking about it that way. :)

Wanda said...

Mmm...pears and brie. I'm hungry.

Wanda..... said...

Your posts touch on such truths and familiar memories. I used to pick pears here on the property with my mother and grandchildren, she's no longer with us and the kids have grown...life changes.

Your writings are so original, yet...about such common feelings and thoughts.

Barb said...

Sometimes watching and waiting are almost as good as the actual savoring. I enjoyed your story, Deb.

Terri Tiffany said...

This is one of your best stories:) I am so sorry for your mother. You have delicious memories it sounds like of times back then with her.
Canned pears are so much better than any store bought ones. My MIL cans still at 85 and I always hope she will send us home with a jar when we visit.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

I do wonder what ghosts run through your mother's head, as well as those others whose lives have scattered. I wonder what, if anything, takes them back in time like the pear.

Jessica Nelson said...

I don't really like pears but this sure made me want to eat one! :-) Awesome imagery and words.

Linda Myers said...

Lovely memory post.

Amber said...

It is a writer who can pull so much out of a pear. Nice job...Can't wait to read more about your life.


Patti Lacy said...

Oh, oh, oh!! It's a delectable treat to be outta the cave and here!
That pear...and your words..are sensory experiences~!!

And to think I once hated the strange-shaped fruit!

Sandi said...

Yum, so many of my favorite things! Fall, farmer's market, even canning pears. I have my mother's pear peeler from when she worked at Del Monte. I love the excuse to use it, just holding it makes me think of her. We also had home canned fruit for dessert. We were so lucky, don't you think? Hard times, hard lives, but good memories.

Gammary said...

beautiful posts... Deb you too are ripening..the perfect, sweet, best of the season, pear.


Cheryl said...

I agree with Linda, (Wander to the Wayside). I am always amazed at your ability to make such wonderful posts from something seemingly so every day. I hope you'll drop by Scrubby Bush and read my post on National Novel Writing Month. I'd so love to see you join in.

graceonline said...

Like you, I labor gently over the baskets of pears this time of year, looking for one that carries the sweetness, juiciness and flavor of the tree-ripened fruit in our backyard decades ago. We would reach our tiny hands to the lowest branches, standing on tip toe, and barely touch the pears. The ripe ones would fall immediately into our clutching fingers and move in one fluid motion to our mouths. Warmed from the sun, their hot juices spilled from our lips before we could catch them all, dripping from our chins, sliding down our arms. We licked the juice we could reach from our chins, wiped the rest on the back of our hands and licked it off there, salt and all, all the way up our arms.

Delicious goodness. And yes, just as you say, a drunken kind of satisfaction only a ripe pear yields.

kario said...

I have read this post three times so far. The first time it evoked thoughts of the pears on my own counter and the joy they bring to me and the girls when I slice them open in the morning.

The second time I recalled the summer my mother came up to teach me and the girls to can peaches and pears and how the girls worked so hard to peel the fruit and giggled when they sneaked sticky bites.

The third time I nearly cried as I put it all together and walked with you through the market, with your ghosts in your head and swirling all about you and I felt the love and pride of your mother hovering above you.

You amaze me. I love you.

Katie Gates said...


Mark Lyons said...

I almost felt myself in that place...smelling and tasting the sweetness of your perfect pear. I can still remember the times you and mom canned as well. And the sense of appreciation when winter came and our palates treated by the "fruits" of your labor.

I love you