“Mulberries $3.” A simple sign on a country road transported me back almost 60 years to a childhood where such trees figured prominently.
We were seven girls in four neighbouring houses — “the gang” — whose childhood likely would be described today as “feral”. Although we had a well-used neighbourhood park, it was the trees in the back yards and roadside that filled countless hours.
Joan was the oldest and the leader. Her yard had one of the best trees: a large and spreading mulberry tree, big enough for all seven of us, with high branches for the agile and low branches for those not so daring. Joan’s mother sometimes asked us to pick mulberries for a pie. In hindsight it was probably a ruse to clear the house since more of the delicious fruit went into mouths, or down the front of clothes, than into the bucket.
As the only mulberry tree in the neighbourhood, it also had a very special role when someone brought home a shoebox with little holes in the lid and silkworms in the base. There was much talk of the silken garments we would make but, while we often produced silken cocoons, we lacked the skill to unravel them.
Our yard next door lacked any trees much worth climbing but plenty to keep us occupied. The frangipani tree had us imagining exotic islands in the South Seas and beautiful floral leis. Frangipani flowers pinned in our hair were a common sight, as indeed were sticky latexcovered hair, hands or clothes.
We also had numerous fruit trees. They suffered from lack of attention since our father preferred weekends on the cricket pitch or golf course. A mandarin tree still managed to thrive and produced fruit enough for all.
The worst were the nectarines. So often the squeal “disgusting” went up when someone opened a nectarine to discover the fruit flies had been there first. To this day, I am more than happy to leave nectarines alone.
“Disgusting” was also the description for the figs that grew on a fabulous tree in the back yard of the only boy our age in the neighbourhood. Like fruit bats, we would descend — but only to climb and not to eat. It was very much a white bread childhood and figs were too exotic for our plain tastes. Sometimes a daring child, or one on a dare, would bite into a fig, declare it “disgusting” and leave it for the birds, which must have had a wonderful feast.
In the years since those halcyon summer days, my palate has fortunately matured and I regard ripe figs as a glorious fruit. I am always delighted when I spy a box on the greengrocer’s shelf. “Hmm, I wonder how they would go with a mulberry sauce?”
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