Peaches. And Tita.

For the next few weeks I’ll be republishing old favorites from the old blog. Some I’ve reworked, some remain untouched. I hope you enjoy them. Why peaches? Because I miss summer.

Years ago I was visiting friends, sitting outdoors enjoying wine, when we heard a mewling from under the porch. A cat had given birth and abandoned her babies. I adopted a calico girl and called her Tita. I’d just seen Like Water for Chocolate and loved it which should give you some indication as to the year.

Tita was a tiny thing, her eyes not even open. I wrapped her in blankets and made her a tiny box bed. I protected her from my other cats who weren’t happy with this new interloper. I fed her formula, her mouth so small I had to use an eyedropper. She mewled and purred and loved me but did not thrive. When I took her to the vet two weeks later he was amazed she was still alive. She’d been born premature, her lungs not fully formed. It’s why Momma had left her. Sadly, Tita passed and I buried her with much ceremony under my mother’s peach tree. To this day when I eat peaches, I think of Tita.

Summer. Peach season. It arrives and folks look forward to baseball, or chase fireflies, or head to the beach. Some folks grill outdoors every night or hoard tomatoes or sweet corn. Vacations and sleepaway camp. Buggy sounds and camping and sweaty backs of knees and cold beers and mosquito bites and fireworks. Me? I want peaches.

This is a new phenomenon. As a kid, I could take them or leave them. Because I could never eat them. I could NEVER eat fresh peaches. Peach ice cream or canned in heavy syrup were fine, but fresh? Never. Even a small sliver would cause my throat to close up like a clogged artery. Then the itching would start. Ever see Meg Ryan in French Kiss when she overdoses on cheese? Kinda like that. Except with me it’s not lactose intolerance, but UNBELIEVABLE itching, like a mosquito was stinging my esophagus. Itchy itchy itchy. I’d sit there scratching my neck even though all the agony was inside — hoping somehow the scratching would magically sink under the skin and take away my suffering. My mother thought I was making it up. Who’s ever heard of someone being allergic to FRUIT?

This was the early 70’s mind you — not like today when every other kid is allergic to almost everything. She’d insist I was lying, and make me eat them anyway. For my health. And I would itch. And itch. And itch. As an adult, I’d continue to endure. Sometimes. I do love peaches because when they’re good they’re very very good. The juicyness, the sweetness, nibbling around and around the fuchsia-colored stone inside. But half the time I wouldn’t bother, because frankly the peach itself wasn’t worth the suffering. They’d be hard, tasteless things. So hard they’d almost be apple crunchy and so devoid of taste they resembled a turnip. Good ol’ Safeway peaches. We didn’t live near any orchards. Strawberry fields yes, but orchards no.

By last year I’d kind of given up. It just wasn’t worth the effort or the itching. Then our first CSA peaches arrived. Told Hubby he could have them. Itchy esophagus? Not today please. He ate one and his eyes went all wide. Started making yummy noises. Ate another and the noises started getting R-rated! Well, okay, maybe just one bite.

With that one bite I was transformed. These peaches were from another freaking PLANET. It was like CSA Guy had clawed his way up Mount Olympus and plucked a peach right out of Aphrodite’s hand. There she was on her chaise lounge, arm raised over mouth ready to sink her teeth into a perfect peach and CSA Guy grabs it away, running down the hill like he’s Jack in the Beanstalk and that peach is a golden egg. Ol’ Venus lying there, thinking, “WTF?!” because all she sees are the bottom of his shoes. Down the mountain he goes, placing that perfect peach into our own little CSA box.

Not only was this peach juicy and sweet, it SMELLED like peach. None of the Safeway peaches of my childhood ever smelled like anything. Maybe a cold, wet “fridgey” smell from sitting in the produce aisle, but never like a peach. When I first inhaled its sweet fragrant perfume I thought, “Wow, this smells like hand lotion! Or cobbler! Or canned peaches!” then had to stop myself. Idiot, it’s a PEACH. This is what it’s SUPPOSED to smell like! The scent draws you in, intoxicating you, then drives a glancing blow to your taste buds with the first bite. The flesh actually falls away from the pit. No more hacking and sawing to remove every bit of peachy goodness. This peach peels itself from the pit as easy as a navel orange.

And get this.

Absolutely. No. Itching.

No itching! Not even a trace. Did I grow out of the allergy when I wasn’t looking? Tested the theory, gritted my teeth, and bought a Harris Teeter peach. One sliver and the itching began. Yuck, yuck, yuck. Two hours of hell. NOT a good memory to relive. At all.

So it’s fresh, local peaches for me from now on. Our first batch arrived last week and lasted maybe a day at the most. Ate two right away. Saved the rest to eat alone, or with yogurt. Would like to make a pie or a cobbler, but something tells me they just won’t last that long.

And yes, while I’m gnawing and gurgling away happily with peach juice all over everything I’ll think of Tita who taught me even tiny life can have resilience and strength and will. I still visit the tree where she lays. At the time of her death Momma’s peach tree was on its last legs, the branches craggly, leaves dry and brittle. Barely hanging on. Today it’s majestic, twice its former size and laden with tiny fruit. I’d find it morbid to eat any, but to see it so full of life? Wow. I like to think some of Tita’s magic seeped into its roots somehow. Because why the hell not?

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