Friday, January 19, 2007

the (long-awaited) power of peaches

I said back here that I'd be blogging this memory soon, but I was unceremoniously sidetracked by menopause. But we're here now, and better late than never.

When rugrat 1 was headed for kindergarten, I wanted him in a school in my old neighborhood, where I spent my teen years. The public schools in Spokane had a bad rep back then, and private (read: Catholic) schools were the way to go. I knew I could get him into this school and I could do volunteer work to cover the cost of tuition. So I moved us into a small apartment that was part of a triplex, to be within walking distance of the school (we didn't have a car then).

At $225/month, we struggled with the rent, because I was back and forth between work and welfare. Welfare paid $300/month, and $200/month in foodstamps, so $225/month was a lot of rent on that income, considering I still had to pay for electricity, heat, and the telephone.

Toward the end of his kindergarten year, I learned from a girlfriend that her mom was moving out of a house in the area, and the rent was only $125. When she described the area, I realized I knew the landlords from church/school, so I contacted them to see about renting the place. When they realize it was me (the single mom) the rent suddenly and inexplicably was quoted as $150/month. But even that was better than what I was paying, so we went for it.

The house was a small two-room building that a couple had lived in until they died. They had been unable to have children, and when they died, they left the house to their neighbors, the couple from church. The landlords' only change to the place was to add on a small slice of a room to move the kitchen into (the kitchen had previously been in the one room that also housed the living room and dining room as well). The bathroom did not have a shower, but the bathtub made up for it. One of those old, huge, claw-footed tubs with a slanted/slightly reclining back, it's the only tub I can recall that allowed me to soak in a bubblebath to my heart's content. They gardened in the back yard and took care of themselves until the end.

The landlords were throwbacks to the 50's, and called each other 'mother' and 'father.' He was a minor city councilmember, but they believed it gave them status. They were 'pillars' of the church community, very 'moral' and judgmental. They required me to mow the lawn myself, which wouldn't have been a hardship except: the back yard garden had been allowed to go fallow, and grass had grown in without the dirt being leveled first. And they wouldn't let me use their power mower, I had to use the push mower that 'came with the house.' All it took was one attempt at pushing that very old, very heavy mower across the horribly uneven ground to see that this was a punishment for my moral standards. When I wouldn't mow the lawn, they eventually left me a letter saying they would begin charging $50/month more in rent to pay the person they hired to mow for me -- that person was their own grown son who still lived with them, who would come over and mow my little bit of dirt after doing his parents' lawn.

This was the house we lived in when we didn't have access to a washer and dryer. We asked around and managed to get a red wagon donated, and we used that wagon to load up dirty clothes and walk 5 blocks to the laundromat, year-round. Rugrat could sit on the clothes in the wagon on the way to the laundromat, but he had to walk on the way home so the clean clothese would stay clean.

But on to the peaches. Sweet, sweet peaches. This house had, in the middle of the backyard where it would have been surrounded by garden, a peach tree. The landlords mentioned it, but said it had not born fruit for years. So, imagine our surprise and pleasure when that summer, that tree bore fruit. And not just a handful, but scads and scads! Bountiful, abundant, overflowing with peaches -- we were picking them up off the ground, as they kept dropping, ripe, sweet, and juicy. There were much too many to eat right away, and we wanted to eat them all. Nothing went to waste in our house back then. And peaches, fresh fruit of any kind, was out of reach of those on fixed incomes, just as they are today.

I had no idea how to can food, nor did I have access to all the supplies necessary to do so (and couldn't have afforded the supplies if I did have access). But, I did have a small freezer in addition to the freezer in the fridge. It was something a friend had let me charge on their credit card and pay off slowly, so that we could store food when we found things on sale. It helped with the food budget. So, I managed to buy some freezer storage bags, and we spent a few weekends gathering, slicing, and peeling peaches, sealing them in plastic bags, and placing them lovingly in the freezer.

We considered them precious, something we didn't get very often. But now, now we would have fresh peaches all year. And throughout the winter. What a pleasure it was to want a treat in the winter and be able to pull a bag of those sweet peaches out of the freezer. We cooked them and poured them over biscuits, mashed them and mixed them in pancake batter, used granola and made a cruchy peach cobbler.

And as if that weren't enough, the next summer, the tree again bore fruit. Not nearly as much as the summer before, but enough to put some away for the coming months.

We moved away that fall for a job that required relocation to another town, and I heard from friends that the tree never again bore fruit, and eventually, the landlords had the tree taken out to make lawn mowing easier.

But for those two beautiful, precious, magical summers, the tree bore fruit for rugrat and me. And that little miracle is not something that will be easily forgotten.


A Good Knights Journey said...

What a Great story!

Anonymous said...

*smile* wow...that was a great pleasure to read! Thanks for sharing!