Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Memories of a Loquat Tree
Some of the most vivid memories I have of my childhood are of the loquat tree in our front yard. I imagine the tree was there when my parents and older brothers moved into the house in the early '70s, as it was full grown and productive by the mid-'80s, when these memories were made. I spent many a temperate San Antonio evening in its nook, made easy to access by my resourceful father who nailed three wooden slats to the trunk so I could shimmy my short little body up to the fork between two branches. Often times, I'd escape the madness that was our four-child, two-parent home by taking some melodramatic young adult book or my current diary up there and sit over the driveway, just enough hidden to evade easy detection. (To this day, I'm not sure anyone ever knew that this was my chosen hiding place for all those years.) In the days of early summer, when the fruits would yellow and ripen, I'd eat them straight off the tree, right there in the driveway, using its branches and those of the neighboring tall ash for shade from the relentless Texas sun. Loquat trees actually grew up in yards all around our home. So, on days or evenings when climbing the tree didn't provide enough solace, I'd roam the cul-de-sacs of our quiet, sidewalk-less neighborhood, collecting fallen loquats on the way for food, for what I was sure would be a long, lonely night on the street.
Eventually, the tree had to be chopped down and uprooted -- like many others at the time, it had become infected with some incurable virus (or, so I think). I remember then, even, feeling that this somehow marked the passage of time. I had long outgrown the nook, but even so, the loss of the tree and its fecund branches, stands out as I remember my last few years in San Antonio. I'm not sure what took its place, if anything.
Years later, when I moved to Irvine for graduate school, I discovered just such a tree down the path from my apartment. It had been close to 15 years since the last time I sunk my teeth into the tough skin to the soft, sometimes tart, sometimes sweet, always juicy meat of a loquat. Though they still have a few days to go before reaching sugary perfection, I simply haven't been able to resist plucking a few to relieve the branches from a bit of their droop. Like I used to do when foraging for food on the streets of San Antonio, I cupped my shirt like a basket and piled them in for sustenance for what I was sure would be a long and arduous journey.