It’s persimmon season, the time of the year when many Asians swoon at the site of the glowing, orange fruits at markets and on tree limbs. Many people have gifted my parents persimmons but the ones from my neighbor Dan are particularly delicious. I’ve earned lots of bonus points with my folks through Dan’s generosity. Turns out that Dan has long harbored a stealthy motivation for his gift giving. A former Navy man and retired school teacher, he wrote this essay to encapsulate his unusual relationship with me and my family. I took the photos. Enjoy.
Actually, it’s all about redemption — faith, family, the holidays, Los Angeles, the razor’s edge existence in the suburbs of the greater Santa Cruz Metropolitan area during an autumn harvest, gourmet food, and the symbiosis that holds it all together . . . and persimmons.
Persimmons, in my world, are the zucchini squash of fruitdom. They lay dormant for about 11 ½ months, waiting, luring the unsuspecting into a sense of complacency. Then, in their chosen month, for about 30 days, they invade like the screaming mongrel hoards, swooping into the lowlands from the north, laying waste to all feeble attempts to oppose them.
Generally, it’s not a surprise. You know it’s coming. People have been known to purposefully plant zucchinis. There is a promise, nay, dare I say, a guarantee of harvest. However, once the day arrives, and you have collected all you can manage, it is then you sadly realize you have yet to put a small dent in the bumper quantity of it all. It’s the same every year.
It should be stated here that I have never, nor will I ever, plant a zucchini on purpose. I have seen what it can do to otherwise normal relationships within society. That did not stop me, however, from planting three dwarf persimmon trees on my property. I didn’t trade them for the family cow, but the surprise, waiting at the top of what I planted, is not dissimilar to Jack’s, and his dire need of an axe to resolve his conundrum. Today, all three of my vast “dwarf” persimmon forest, top out at about twenty feet.
I never said I was shrewd or even clever. In my defense, the trees were free.
Each autumn, it starts out with me magnanimously providing all of my extended family with our abundant fruit harvest. This happens at least until they stop returning my calls, or set their dogs on me. After that, I move on to gifting my friends, their families, and friends of those families and so on. No matter how much effort I seem to exert, there is always more fruit on the top of the tree than the day before. My wife is too good of a gardener.
Finally, due to an excess of otherwise healthy-but-unwanted fruit, I realize that the entire raccoon population of the tri-county area has successfully undertaken its yearly pilgrimage to worship at the trifecta of persimmon nirvana that we fondly refer to as our home. They come, they eat, they party, they poop, and they fight all night long just like human families. It is then that I break last year’s promise (again) and reduce myself to concocting many clever, underhanded, and devious ways to creatively unload my ‘treasure’ onto anyone. Total strangers are among my targets in the quest to rid myself of the nightly raccoon wrestle mania outside our bedroom window.
It was on such a day, armed with buckets of persimmons, that I approached our new neighbors in the hopes that they couldn’t refuse this genuinely friendly (honest?) yet neighborly “gesture.” Couched in a “welcome to the neighborhood” scheme, I presented our new neighbors with a solid welcome, and enough persimmons to have made less compassionate individuals leery of my intent.
Rory and Andrea had just moved in behind us. They were convenient. It was an easy walk, and I did have quite a load to carry. Surprisingly, Andrea was delighted. She took all of them. I was stunned, and immediately sorry I hadn’t brought more.
I know what you’re thinking, and you would be correct. I am not a good person. It’s true, but desperation is an harsh taskmaster, that will drive one to do things not ordinarily considered. And when it comes to persimmons, and raccoon squatters, turns out I am as amoral as the next guy.
They were both just getting ready to depart for the holidays in Southern California. They were visiting Andrea’s elderly parents. They left Vietnam in the 70’s, and moved to the United States. As it turns out, Andrea’s parents view persimmons as a real delicacy, a treat of sorts. All I could see was opportunity. Okay, you can add mercenary to my list of character flaws. You can see that this story could end here and be complete. I have a market that desires my product, and a delivery system, all under the guise of being a good neighbor. Andrea may need to make a few more trips than she intended, but how could she deny her only parents?
True to their word, Rory and Andrea, packed the fruit to Los Angeles, and to her parents, where it was well received. Upon her return, Andrea told me she was grilled about the generous neighbor, who by the sweat of his brow picked all the fruit, then kindly gave it away so, those persimmonless in Southern California could benefit. My exterior was complacently composed.
“Yes, yes, my pleasure, not a problem,” I eagerly say.
On the inside, I was gleeful. At last! No more tracking rotten persimmon through the house and hazmat suits for raccoon poop! I will just pack it all off to a kindly elderly couple in Southern California! It was like winning the lottery! No extra fruit, no extra raccoons! It’s a win! win! Andrea sees more of her parents, they get the delicacy they deserve, I get rid of the damn persimmons, and the raccoon remora that seasonally attaches itself to the fruit. All the while I maintain the appearances of being a “good guy,” and not the self-serving low-life merc that I really am.
Then, upon her return, Andrea dropped the bombshell. She showed up at our back door with a heap of freshly cooked gourmet delicacies that she was perfecting for her next book. Turns out she is a renowned author and a stunning cook. She said that because of my kindness, she wanted to share her multiple “attempts” in her journey to recipe perfection for her next publication. She told us why she felt these were “practice” and not yet perfection, but felt she couldn’t waste it all by tossing it out, and hoped we would be interested. It was a genuinely gracious act on her part, and a gross understatement concerning her persimmon tree neighbors and free food.
I can’t really recall clearly who was in the room after she left, but the ensuing frenzy rivaled the worst that National Geographic has to offer. Things were said, territories marked, delicacies cashed, feelings hurt, alliances made, then broken, names taken, and then crossed off the list. On a positive note, the raccoons left in disgust. I wanted to be ashamed, and I did feel a vague twinge of guilt, but my pile of cashed delicacies was the largest of the existing household tribe, so I had more to lose, being surrounded with people under the age of thirty, and possessing no concept of territorial proprieties, so I had to be diligent, and keep my mind clear and focused. Feeling guilty or ashamed would only make me less diligent to my “duties.’
Shortly after that, Andrea stopped by to tell me that her mother, as devout Catholic, had lit a candle for me. Well, that was not in my plan. Faith in a deity, and then faith in human kind, compounded by faith in me, did not dovetail nicely into the “Ersatz Good Neighbor Persimmon Plan.” Now that all of Andrea’s previously delivered delicacies were consumed, I did feel ashamed, and a little guilty. My hypocrisy could only carry me so far, and then I had to admit that no amount of rationale could be mustered to counter the fact that my motivation was not pure. So, one could say, I saw and felt the error of my ways, and strongly desired the need to rehabilitate. (If not me, then at least the plan.) In a sober moment, I realized I couldn’t expect Andrea to schlep all the persimmons to Southern California, or that her elderly mom and Dad could consume that much fruit without dire consequences.
Now, every year in late autumn, I go out, brave the elements, and pick what ever amount Andrea feels her parents can safely consume, freeze, can, jellify, bread, and share (but only if they want to share). I do this because it is the right thing to do, it makes them happy, and it feels good to do the right thing with a pure heart. I still hound all the other contacts to take their quota.
With each passing year I seem to have fewer friends in autumn, and for that matter, fewer family. I have made peace with the raccoons, and leave a few on the tree for their consumption, but their numbers have dwindled lately due to my diligence, and the flock of city gleaners that make an appointment, and strip the tree bare so the fruit is not wasted. It’s almost the perfect symbiosis. Even the raccoons seem content with the new arrangement.
Andrea still brings by her unbelievably delicious dishes like we are doing her a favor. I am attempting to share her gifts with other household tribal members, and discovering that it is good, (and looks better on my waistline). After years, I am finally finding redemption through a family from Vietnam living in California, not even my own, but now a little bit, maybe, I think.
So if some one asks me what is it like to live next to a gourmet cook, and renowned author? I answer easily, “It’s all about my LA family, the autumn harvest, the holidays, gourmet food delivered to our back door, and persimmons.”
— Dan M.