Carrie Yamato

For as long as I can remember, I was blind to the fruit trees in my parents’ backyard.

Even when my dad would proudly ask me, “Did you see my lemons and oranges? Can you pick some?” I would just close my eyes to them with a half-hearted, “Can you ask the gardeners to do it? I don’t really have time, and I’m not really dressed for picking fruit today.”

My dad was never one to push an issue, so of course, the gardeners picked them, and my mom displayed them in her fruit bowl. And, while I wasn’t there to witness it, I know seeing the bright orange and yellow hues on the kitchen table put a smile on his face and made his strenuous trek to the kitchen via his wheelchair or cane a little more worth the effort.

My dad passed away from COPD four years ago, and while I still miss so many things about him, his fruit trees were never anything that I gave a second thought about.

But then last month—perhaps because I had just seen a box of Halos at the market or because I was in the mood for honey-lemon tea—I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful abundance of fruit on his trees when I looked out their family room window.

I didn’t really have time, and again, I wasn’t really dressed for fruit picking, but something compelled me to grab a grocery bag and trudge out there in my wedge espadrilles— just to pick a few I told myself.

Each tug of fruit sank my shoes into the dirt. The branches scraped my hands. They also caught my hair as I reached for the fruit below. But for some reason, it didn’t matter. Rather than calling it quits, I went back into the house and returned with a pair of pruning shears and a few more bags. And after 45 minutes, I had three bags overflowing with lemons and oranges.

I have never picked this much fruit or felt so fulfilled doing something so simple. Maybe the motivation came from wanting to give these fruits to my dad’s siblings as a gift from him this Christmas. Maybe it was because I wanted to give them to my foodie friends because I knew they would appreciate home-grown produce.

But as I was filling the last bag, I knew the reason I stayed out there. It was more than happy memories. I had found a new connection with my dad that I never cultivated before. While I always knew that his garden brought him joy and pride, I never understood it or shared his feeling until now.

While my dad and my mom are no longer here to give me their unconditional love, comfort and advice, I also looked at each piece of fruit that I picked, as a gift from them that was filled with something special that I would discover later.  It was organic, pure and sweet.

On my way home, I couldn’t wait to drop off my fresh pickings at a few friends’ homes. I’m sure it was the same rush that my dad felt when he offered them to his friends and family. When I got home, I divided all the fruit to give to more family and friends. I even peeled one and gave a few slices to my daughter even though I knew it would be met with resistance.

“Mom, why did you give these to me?” she asked. “You know I don’t really like these.”

“Why don’t you just try it? It’s from Grandpa’s tree,” I told her. “It’s his gift to us. It’s super sweet—just like Grandpa.

“Just try it,” I urged again. You might be surprised.”

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