It was 1994 and we’d just crossed a hot stretch of desert in Central California in a 1981 cobalt blue Toyota truck. Stopping to fuel up at the intersection of Interstate 5 and Highway 40, we couldn’t help but notice the plywood tables beneath scanty shelter running the length of the parking lot.
It was August. It was hot, and we’d just driven 100 miles from the coast, with both windows rolled down and the fan blowing on high.
We’d met that spring and were on our first weekend road trip. After topping off with gas, Wes parked Old Blue in a sliver of shade behind the station and we walked over to the shanty of fruit stands lining the east edge closest to the on-ramp, a symphony of traffic shushing past.
Stone fruit filled boxes across sagging counter tops boasted piles of blushing peaches, cheerfully pink apricots and sunshiny nectarines. But one fruit drew us over as surely as a moth to a flame.
The yellow plum stood out in relief against all the sepia tones owning that dusty corner. It was a perfect yellow circle resting on the brown finger tips of my then, boyfriend, and now husband, Wes.
Wes wore a faded olive green Stussy visor and board shorts – a memory seared into my sun-addled brain. I’d never seen a fruit like the one crowning his finger tips.
The Asian plum was a water balloon stretched too tight. It was as though the fruit itself sighed relief when my teeth released the pressure of the skin. We bought a lunch-sized bag of them and stood on that silver asphalt lot with forearms and chins drenched.
Before I met Wes, I didn’t give fruit much thought. In fact, as far as I was concerned, fruit belonged in a pie.
Wes, being of Brazilian blood, worships fruit. The first time he came to my home in San Diego, he tuned into a fig tree in the backyard. I’d lived there two years and never given that gnarly old tree the time of day. I was standing at the kitchen sink looking at him with great suspicion when he presented me with my first fresh fig.
I was afraid of it. It was black. It was weird looking – a little obscene even. But I trusted him and took a bite and have never looked back. Hands down the black mission fig is one of my all-time favorite fruits.
If in the evolution of a relationship, the plum represents courtship and the fig, the development of trust; then there has to be one alluding to the trials that beset every romance.
In this case it would be the mango. It was April 2001. We were in our second year of marriage and had just moved to Hawaii where we were at the quarantine station in Aiea, on Oahu, visiting our dogs. On the property beside the parking lot was a mango tree heavy with fruit.
“Oh babe, let’s take some in with us,” he said. Reaching into the lower branches, he plucked a few of the red and gold fruit shimmery with tree sap. “I’ll show you how we eat them in Brazil.”
He rolled the mango between his palms until it turned into a slushy, then bit a hole in the tip and sucked the gooey pulp from the fruit. We sat all morning brushing the dogs, reading and eating mango this way.
That night I had an irritation on my eyelid. By morning my eyes were swollen shut, and by noon my cheeks had risen to join my nose.
A clinic visit taught us that mango sap is an equivalent of poison oak oil, to which I have a severe allergy. For two weeks I had to bare the itch and ugly of the exposure and Wes had to suffer suspicious glances from strangers eyeballing my swollen face.
A marriage is more mango than plum. That plum period is fleeting; a time when every little thing is a first. The mango is promise of sweetness and the reality of the unforeseen; wanting one thing then getting another and having to adjust.
It’s mango season again and we’ll follow the ritual adopted when we first arrived in these Islands: The mangos will not be allowed to mingle with other fruit for fear of oily contamination. Wes will scrub them thoroughly, then peel and slice them for me to eat.
Then the season will end, until the next one, and the next, and the next one after that.