Spring marches in cherry blossoms bearing deep, sensual red fruit. The National Cherry Blossom Festival began March 18 and runs through April 16, 2023, in Washington, DC. Nothing signifies the arrival of spring in the nation’s capital quite like the blooming of the cherry blossom trees…or an orchard from a childhood memory. How about just one tree?
My Aunt Tene had several fruit trees scattered about the perimeter of her rural country home. Persimmon, apple, peach, and one flawless cherry tree. The trunk was not tall, but shorter to the ground with three to four main suitable limbs that fanned out perfect for climbing. Two of my cousins, and I, all within the range of 1 to 1 ½ years apart in age, claimed this one for our own. It sat directly west of the house, right behind a small tractor garage. Corn and bean fields surrounded the property and straight to the north, where this young man in blue is looking, was a field where my uncle kept a bull.
We sprang up into the tree like three monkeys, ideas and imagination in hand. We loved the spring and summer storms when the winds would whip the smaller branches back and forth like ribbons. Les always got to be the captain of our pirate ship, leaving Sandy and me to be first mates. Even though I was the tallest, I was also the skinniest and could shimmy up to the crow’s nest with my pretend telescope, watching for the first start of a funnel cloud to drop from the sky or an enemy ship to rise on the horizon. These sky’s blackened, the winds blew in harder and we had to bring in the sails, or otherwise, would end up in the field behind with one big mean bull. When Aunt Tene discovered we were not in the house during her head count (there were five other siblings) she ran outside by the clothesline and cupped her hands around her mouth to scream at us. “Get in the house this minute! What’s the matter with you kids?!” We would drop from the tree and dash by her while lightning popped and cracked closer and closer as she rushed in behind us.
When the cherries were ripe for picking, up the tree we went with plastic buckets. More went into our mouths than in the bucket. In a game we played we spit seeds at one another and whoever got hit the most lost. That was a no-brainer.
Once our small buckets were satisfactorily full, we traipsed back into the house and watched Aunt Tene deseed the cherries. Total magic. She simply took a straw, pushed it through the center of the cherries, and out popped the seed. She gently cooked a pan full down with a bit of sugar and thickened the sauce while Sandy and I crushed graham crackers with a rolling pin. Aunt Tene poured in a bit of melted butter, patted the moist crumbs into a large rectangular glass baking dish, then filled with whipped softened cream cheese and who knows what else, and poured the cherries over the top to chill up in the refrigerator. Boy it was grand.
Each summer when dark ripe cherries hit the stores here in Tucson beginning in June, I at least spit one seed at a target. Just one. Well, maybe two.