From lemons to children, my dad tends to them the same way.
My father has always had a knack for growing things. Plants, kids, chickens, you name it. He's nothing if not resourceful. He grew up on a rancho outside of Guadalajara and when he came to California in his mid-20's, he still had plenty of earth in his blood. He didn't let a little thing like not having a proper piece of land keep him from putting what he knew best to use.
When my parents bought their first house in Lincoln Heights, my father planted peach tree seedlings to line one side of the yard. The house was small, but those trees, four of them, grew quickly and soon gave the most delicious white peaches every summer. I spent many afternoons on the porch shooing away neighborhood kids who skulked around hoping to the raid the tree when I wasn't looking.
When we moved to Cypress Park, my father's brother and his family took up residence in the house. The trees were dead within two summers. My dad wasn't there to tend to them and his brother had other things to keep him busy. My dad bit his tongue and cut the trees down but only after they'd been dead for a while and there was no denying that they hadn't gone into an extended hibernation. From then on we got our peaches at the supermarket like everyone else, but we still talk about those peaches. They were really that good.
Our new house had an anemic lemon tree in the backyard. Instead of cutting it down, my father set about bringing it back to life. He cleared away the weeds, mercilessly trimmed the dread branches and when branches started to grow, sprayed it with a simple concoction of soap and water to keep the bugs away. Within in a year or two we had so many lemons we didn't know what to do with them. So my dad suggested we, his three younger kids, earn some pocket money and sell them. So I trotted off to the supermarket and swiped some plastic produce bags, drew up a sign and hauled a tin wash basin brimming with lemons to the corner. We cleared a good chunk of change the first day and kept at it until the lemon season was over.
When we grew into our teenage years and refused to set up our makeshift stand, my dad set out the basin, propped 'gratis' sign against it and let nature take its course. Occasionally, I'd come out and help a neighbor pack a bag and see them off with a smile. Then Los Angeles started its Malathion spraying and the lemon tree stopped giving lemons for a few years. But my dad didn't give up on the tree even though it looked more dead than alive. Once or twice my parents seriously considered chopping down, but something kept my dad from going through with it. He nursed it back from the brink and it now gives lemons again, a bag of which are in my kitchen waiting to be made into lemonade, to flavor sauces or for saliditos if I can find them around here.
My dad went on to grow corn, about a ton of cherry tomatoes, pomegranates, roses the local church ladies would steal to place in front of the statue of La Virgen at Divine Savior and now guavas. It's the guavas the locals sneak into the yard for these days: the Asian ladies for the leaves to make tea and everyone else for the fruit that drops to the ground with a satisfying thump night and day during the season. He preserves what he can and gives away the rest since none of his kids have a taste for the fruit.
The house I currently live in with my husband and son came with a small lemon tree we weren't sure we'd keep or not. My husband wants it out and I don't have my father's green thumb, but I refuse to let him cut it down. When I remember to, I give it a good watering and it's the only reason I venture into the backyard.
Last weekend we had a barbeque on the back deck and as I carried out a plate of carne asada from my dad to toss on the grill he clapped me on the back approvingly, pointed with the fork he was using to turn the meat and said, 'Your tree is giving lemons now, hija.'
And so it is.
[orignally published on www.LatinoLA.com on March 17, 2007]