“Quick. Someone’s killed my father….There was nothing but my thoughts for Father. I walked towards the sitting room, sank my teeth into the pear, stopped at the door. The clock on the mantle ticked ticked. My legs began to shake and I took a bite of the pear to make them still. Behind the sitting room door was the smell of tobacco pipe. “Father,” I said. “Is that you?”
from “See What I Have Done” by Sarah Schmidt
We’ve been living here for four years and I didn’t know we had a pear tree in the back pasture. When I picked the small pear this morning I expected it to be juicy. Like the pears in the arbor in Sarah Schmidt’s novel about Lizzie Borden that I’m reading. The pears are almost a character in the book, eaten at the oddest moments.
It seems one pear leads to another. This morning I was reading about Lizzie Borden’s pear arbor, then I find the pear tree in our pasture and that made me think of Mrs. Pendela’s Pears.
Mrs. Pendela was my grandmother’s friend. She lived in a big old house that was set so far back on her property, you couldn’t see it from the road. It was unusual in our post WWII suburban neighbor. Originally it was probably a summer house for someone who lived in New York City.
In the front yard here was a low cement wall around an old garden with two pear trees on either end. The trees were so big the only way to get the pears was to wait for them to fall. One year there were so many pears, my sister and I went with my grandmother to gather them. They were all bruised from the fall and most of them were soft and rotten. They were crawling with bugs, from lying on the ground.
I was a shy kid and uncomfortable around most adults. But especially around my grandmother who spoke only enough English to tell us what to do, but not to talk to. And although she lived upstairs from us, and I saw her everyday, I never remember asking her a question or her having any interest in me other than to be there for her when she wanted or needed something.
We filled paper shopping bags with the rotting pears and walked the few blocks back to our house. Later my grandmother cut up the pears and cooked them in a giant pot.
I don’t remember this as a pleasant experience. My grandmother was not a fun person to be around. She was not the warm and loving stereotype of the Italian Grandmother.
I remember it at all, because it was the first time I experienced gathering food directly from nature (not buying it in a grocery store) seeing it being cooked and eating it. It amazed me that those rotting pears (what I saw as garbage) could be turned into something that actually tasted good.
I don’t like to cook, but two years ago we had so many apples from our tree in the yard, I filled the refrigerator with apples and made apple sauce for months. It seemed wrong to me to waste all those good apples.
And I imagine that’s how my grandmother, who survived World War I in Sicily and the Depression in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, felt when she saw all those pears on Mrs Pendela’s lawn.