When Life Gives You a Bag of Cherries...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ribier Ave., Modesto, CA
I had the rather wonderful opportunity to walk the neighborhood where I grew up in Modesto, CA this past weekend, in support of a State Senator (Jeff Denham) who was facing a nasty recall election. Fortunately, the recall failed and Denham was safe. I'm proud of my hometown. They saw the recall for what it was -- a power grab -- and the measure was rejected by 80% of the electorate. That should send a strong message.

The neighborhood around Standiford Elementary School hasn't changed much since I was growing up there in the late sixties and 1970's. My old home that you see to the left and the entire neighborhood was built in the late 1940's for returning World War II veterans. It was the era of smaller homes, where quarter-acre lots were standard stuff and the standard three bedroom and two bathroom home was crammed into 1100-1300 square feet.

This was natural for this day and age. Families and kids didn't spend a lot of time in the home. In the age before computer games and computers, kids played outside in the front and backyards and in neighborhood parks. Not much has changed here since I was growing up. I saw mothers playing catch with daughters in the front yard. And I happened to encounter a brother and sister who were selling bags of cherries.
Cherries from a Modesto Backyard

This bag of cherries brought back wonderful memories and I was more than happy to pay the price of three bucks for a bag of the most delicious cherries I've had in ages. And for the kids, it was easy money. They simply raided the family cherry tree in the backyard, bagged up the good stuff and sold it at a nearby park. I used to do the same thing as a kid, but back then, that bag of cherries sold for fifty cents.

The World War II veterans who bought these homes on quarter-acre sized lots planted fruit trees by the dozens in those wide and deep backyards. And every neighborhood, like mine, had an alley. The veterans, sadly, are all but gone now. But the orchards of mature fruit trees stand as a testament to what they did.

Those alleys and backyards filled with fruit trees served as my private orchard during my early teenage years. I would walk the alleys on the way home from school, and pick whatever was in season and hanging over the fence. I got my fill of tree ripened peaches, nectarines, kumkwats, pears, plums, avocados, apples, pomegranates or vine ripened grapes and tomatoes. You name the fruit or vegetable and it was there at some point during the walk home from school. And yes, I ate my fill. Much healthier than some packaged snack, don't you think?

At one point during my walk I encountered a tree that looked vaguely familiar to me. I know I had seen it before, but I just couldn't place it. And then, it hit me like a bolt from the blue. It was the exact copy of the Bacon Avocado Tree that I planted in my backyard this spring (Venus LOVES avocados). The only difference was my avocado tree is three feet tall and years away from producing fruit. This Bacon Avocado tree was THIRTY FEET tall, THIRTY FEET wide and must have been at least thirty years old. And it was just loaded with fruit.

What did Bill Bird do? He took the same sort of action that he took decades ago as a young teenager. I walked into a nearby alley, located a branch hanging over a fence and picked one of those avocados to show the wife what she could expect in the very near future.

In many ways, our North Natomas backyard is planted as a tribute to backyards that supplied me with fresh fruit and vegetables as a teenager. I've planted two varieties of peaches (June Pride and an O'Henry), a Stella Cherry tree, Sweet Pomegranate and a Santa Rosa Plum. The wife and I also planted a citrus grove containing a Washington Navel Orange, Dancy Tangerine, Improved Meyer Lemon and a Bearss Lime.

The trees don't quite look like the monsters I encountered in Modesto, but give it time. I'm sure that in thirty years, it too, will feed its share of hungry teenagers.

It's amazing the memories that a simple bag of cherries can bring back, wouldn't you agree?


Joe said...

How funny. I currently teach in the Sylvan District. Well, until tomorrow anyway. Not a big fan of Denham, but the recall didn't exactly seem fair either...and you're right Modesto neighborhoods are loaded with fruit trees.

Bill Bird said...

Thanks for looking in Joe. And, to be honest, I had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to Modesto. Still, when you're part of the team, you fall on the sword when the word comes. I was fortunate enough, however, to be able to grab a precinct close to Standiford and the old family home. And those fruit trees are all still there -- bigger than before and producing that much more. I'm out of cherries now. Sure wish I could get more of them.