It’s almost the end of mango season here in Central Florida. I’ve been carefully watching the blooms on my tree for several months, waiting for when the fruit is large enough to pick. The mangoes haven’t reached their yellow or orange stage yet, so I want them to stay on my tree for a few more weeks. It’s hurricane season here, and even if there are no hurricanes, there are tropical storms or at least very windy storms that knock the fruit off the tree.
Regretfully, annually, I see the work of the squirrels as well, with gnawed on mangoes littering the ground – pits exposed and squirrel teeth marks visible. There are others too far gone – just pits dirtied by the soil, embedded from rains weeks ago.
I worry about my mangoes. Will there be enough to harvest, pridefully carry inside, slice from the pit and eat over the sink so that the juices dribble down my wrists and arms.
I worry I won’t have enough to satisfy me, and to slice and freeze for later months when there are no longer mangoes on the tree.
Growing up in Miami, mangoes sustained my family and me almost every summer morning. We had one large tree out by the road next to the Phillips’ house, and it was enough to bear enough fruit for possibly 10 mangoes a day. When I’d take the garbage to the side of the road, I’d usually step on too-ripened mangoes that had fallen from the tree and we hadn’t picked up soon enough. They were orange with brown or black spots, or sometimes totally black on one side, rotting and smelly. Most of the time I was barefoot and would step right into it and slide, like a banana peel. Damn it, I’d think. Stupid mango.
We had other fruit in the yard as well. Oranges, bananas, carambola, calamondins, sea grapes and avocados.
It seems like I spent an inordinate amount of time outside, looking for ripe fruit, picking it, eating it. It seems all I did was wander around outside, foraging the neighborhood for fruit, climbing trees, roaming from yard to yard. Back then I judged people on two things: did they have fruit trees in their yards, and did they have “good trees.”
I know my mom fed me, because she would ring the outdoor brass bell just before 7:30 just before dusk, right after Gilligan’s Island and before My Favorite Martian was on and the sun was streaming through the back window. She’d make salmon and green peas and my sister and I would count who got more of the tiny round bones in our salmon. By then I had been out most of the day looking for fruit on neighbors’ trees. The Phillips had cherries; the Colemans had oranges; the Freemonts had tangerines, which were on the back side of their house and fairly protected. One had to be pretty clever to pick those without Mrs. Freemont spotting you. The unnamed neighbors next to them had the coveted mulberry tree. Their yard was pretty expansive, not fenced in and almost desolate toward the back. And they never seemed to be home. My best friend Gail and I would make the trip from her house to my house and then back again, stopping to climb the tree, grab handfuls of berries enough to stain our lips and fingers.
If we weren’t eating fruit, we’d search for forts, in trees or free-standing. Gail had a fort in her back yard between a few pine trees. It was big for a fort, and was away from the house so we wouldn’t be bothered by her siblings or parents and had the freedom to sing as many Sonny & Cher songs as we wanted. We were always in search of trees. Tall ones like the huge ficus in my front yard that branched out making encapsulated rooms that we could claim as our own. Or the Australian pines in my back yard, that had shed saplings around their trunks, making smaller trees around their feet, in lines and curves, enough so that could once again make “rooms” out of them. There were bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. Somewhere we had found a black and white speckled pot that we used to make pine cone and water soup and serve to each other. in the afternoons, we played happily as Betty and Veronica, sharing our pine cone soup and debating who Archie liked more. We would venture out to get mangoes and add those to our snack, or some of the small calamondins, which we dipped in Ziploc bags filled with sugar.
Now I have to remind myself to go to the side yard and check to see if the mangoes are getting ripe. Once again this summer. For the 19th year at this house. It’s about half the size of the one at my old house and doesn’t give nearly as much fruit.
But soon there will be fruit I can take in and slice and eat over the sink. Soon I can store the extra fruit, some yellow slices, some orange, in Ziploc bags and push them to the back so no one else sees them.
Now, they are all the fruit I have left.