Family, Latino culture, Stories, Strong Women

An Expert Interview About Mom’s Amazing Oranges

a bowl of oranges
Oranges

Most Sundays I visit my mother. When you spend time with your parents or elders you never know what story they’re going to share.

Mom came into the kitchen from the backyard holding what I thought was a grapefruit.

“From my tree,” her smile and voice triumphant.

She opened her hands and a boulder of an orange rolled onto the kitchen table where I sat reading her Sunday newspaper.

“That’s huge.” My awe not only resulted from the size of the fruit but the fact my mom has a dwarf orange tree making its size more incredible.

The scent of sweetness and tang sprang into the space around us.

“This is a 220,” she said, smiling with every flick of the peel. “At the packing house, we sorted 220’s from 200’s, 210’s.”

“I’m guessing that’s the weight?” I asked.

“Don’t know, but the 220’s were the best of the best. We wrapped them in Sunkist tissue paper before we put them into a special box, all nice.”

vintage citrus label Princess Call Ranch
Sunkist Oranges-Princess label. Creative Commons.

“Like those Harry and David fruit boxes?”

She continued peeling, clearly not hearing my question. Not only is she legally blind, but she has significant hearing loss, not that anyone can really tell of either impairment since she’s so vivacious.

“Ufff, the conveyor belts filled the warehouse, running above us, on the sides, everywhere. There were the regular oranges, the unblemished ones for supermarkets, not a spot on them, and the perfect ones for shipping. And the not so pretty ones for juice.”

I wondered if the beauty of the perfect oranges became a horror at the end of an eight or ten-hour shift where she stood the entire time. Did they still appear beautiful after a thousand oranges rolled by on the conveyor belt?

citrus packing house, 1940's
1940’s photo of interior of citrus packing house-Creative Commons

“Most all the women in the neighborhood worked there. Lots of chisme (gossip) and jokes, the time passed.”

My memory flashed to a summer job I had during college. I worked the graveyard shift in a similar packing house in Oxnard, California sorting strawberries. The women were not so talkative during the night shift.

The conveyor belt rolled at a quick pace while I snatched bruised or overripe berries off the belt and plopped them into the running stream of water alongside the pulleys. The best were shipped to Japan, the worst sent to be made into jelly.

The frigid air reeked of earth and berries, the cold keeping us awake at three in the morning. At the end of the shift, the berries looked like hordes of crawling red spiders.

I finished the strawberry season but that was the last time I worked in a packing house. Mom and her sisters worked in several fruit and chile packing houses for years: Sunkist, S & W, DelMonte.

She often came home, lugging her plastic apron and gloves to wash, reeking of California green chiles, berries, or fruit oil depending on the season. How did she do it? I’m sure she’d say, “You do what you got to do, as long as it’s honest.”

“Now, let’s see if this 220 is sweet,” Mom said. She sectioned the orange with her fingers, piece by piece, working her fingers down the crevices, picking off the white residue of webbing.

She offered me a wedge before she bit into her own piece. Her eyes fluttered with delight. “Ah, a good one.”

My own piece dripped with sweetness. I smiled, not only for the piece of orange but for my mom’s story and opportunity to visit her past.

 

 

Family, Travel

My Town at Christmas

Oxnard_XmasTreeLane

My hometown is at sea level. We don’t get snow. Ever. Okay, I heard we had some back in 1962, but someone might have mistaken it for bits of hail.

For us, Oxnardians, the winter season arrives when Christmas Tree Lane in the Historic District opens, where palm trees lit in sparking white lights tower alongside huge sycamore’s, and Craftsman style houses sit next to Spanish Revivals.

Our annual writer’s group party took place at the home of our friend, Florencia, who co-founded the group ten years ago. Interestingly, she also founded the first dance team for her high school back in 1989. Must be why we like to party at our writing retreats.

The Hostess Home
The Hostess Home

The archway to her home had mistletoe conspicuously hung, not that my date noticed, until we left, when it hung so low it hit his head and ricocheted off my cheek.

After the scrumptious posole, tamales, bolillos and chocolate champurrado, all twenty some of us, plus kids, headed out the door and walked the few blocks of Christmas Tree Lane.

Charlie Brown Christmas -Oxnard, alvaradofrazier.com

Lucky for the crowd, the sidewalks in the historic district are wide enough to allow for strollers, dawdling toddlers, and hand holding couples. But not all at the same time.

Christmas Tree Lane, Oxnard Historic District
Christmas Tree Lane, Oxnard Historic District

And the town’s historic plaza:

Oxnard Pagoda dressed for Christmas
Oxnard Pagoda dressed for Christmas

Now, we’re off to enjoy some ‘real’ winter weather and snow in Denver, Colorado.

I’d like to share with you a travel prayer, sent to me by my mistletoe ducking boy friend:

May the Lord accompany you, that no evil befall you,

no accident overtake you and no calamity come near you,

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Have a beautiful Christmas.