Summer means peaches. Real ones, not those half-mush balls or too-sweet slices you buy at the grocery. Fresh, perfect peaches. Those fuzzy, soft, mouth-watering fruits would sit just out of my 5-year-old arm’s reach, taunting me in the backyard of Grandpa’s farm for months. He told us that hard work and patience is what made the peaches taste so good. We couldn’t have them right away, it took almost all summer until they were ripe, but Grandpa was right, the waiting made them taste even better. This year was special, he told us. New peach trees were going to bloom and the first of thousands of peaches would fill up the tall branches for millions of years to come. This year, he said, my brother and I could be the ones to eat those very first peaches. That’s why I was extra impatient on this particular afternoon. The peaches, Grandpa said, were ripe and ready to be picked.
We spent the whole summer on that farm and each day held promise of hard work, adventure, and time with Grandpa. He spent every minute he could outside, and every day I followed him around, learning how to drive a post, to break a horse, to plant and weed a garden, to trim trees and bushes, and to appreciate the little things. And the best way to learn to appreciate something was to work for it. I hated the work, but only because I was too young to realize its true importance, too small to see what Grandpa was trying to teach me. I got so frustrated at myself, because my little arms weren’t strong enough to hold a post-driver by myself, and I couldn’t hoe the garden as fast as Grandpa could. I’ve always been one to get frustrated if things weren’t working right. And just when I wanted to quit, he knelt down on one knee, offering his leg as a seat and told a goofy joke to lighten the mood.
Today was no different. Mid-August, and I was grumpy. “Now Jesse,” he started, “you know what is so great about beans?” I shook my head as he smiled mischievously, his gold tooth gleaming in the summer sun, his mirth infectious. “Well gee whiz! Beans, Beans! The musical fruit! The more you eat, the more you toot! The more you toot, the better you feel! Let’s have beans for every meal!” We doubled over giggling, laughing because it felt good to be silly. “Let’s take a break,” he said, “I’m old and fat and sweaty and I need a Coke.” I replied, “Me too.” He put his hands on his hips and asked, “You’re old and fat and sweaty, too?” More giggles filled the yard as we walked up to the house and he asked, “Want to swing for a while?”
He led me up to the front porch swing, plopped down and said, “Sit your hooscow right here next to mine.” I climbed up beside him and sipped my Coke, my feet dangling over the swing, still too short yet to reach the ground, wondering why he called my butt a “hooscow”. Just then, my droopy-eyed 3-year-old little brother wobbled out the screen door, little tufts of blonde hair sticking up every which way. Jack clamored up onto Grandpa’s lap, yawning hugely after his daily nap and saying, “Ooo eee gedda eatah spehshol pea chiz how?” Confused, we waited for Jack to finish his yawn before asking him to reiterate. Fixing on his trademark grumpy face, Jack scowled and his tongue poked out of the side of his mouth as he tried to remember how you were supposed to cross your arms when someone wasn’t listening to you correctly. His breath coming out in a little huff of exasperation, he repeated, “I said, do we get to eat the special peaches now?” With a small wink, Grandpa nodded his head in affirmation. Suddenly, no longer tired, Jack bounded off the swing and ran full-tilt to the backyard, as if getting there first would mean he got something better than me, which seemed to be his motive for doing just about everything lately. I walked with Grandpa and Maud, knowing that Grandpa was intentionally moving at a glacial pace to teach Jack the same lesson about patience that he had previously taught me. We stopped between the two, small peach trees that held dozens of yellow-red fruits that were ripe for the picking. Maud sauntered up to my left side and stuck her chocolate-colored muzzle underneath my hand, her tail wagging lazily in the sweltering heat.
We sat down in a straight line, Maud, Jack, and I, and looked up expectantly at Grandpa, who stood just in front of us; his glasses flecked with dust, his pot belly peeking out of the bottom of his white V-neck, his calloused hands reaching into his back pocket to pull out that old blue handkerchief to wipe the sweat off his balding dome. He began the backyard ceremony by saying, “These peaches we are about to eat were hard work, you hear? Everything you get to enjoy on this earth is worth the hard work you put in to get it. And we have to appreciate it, because the harder you work, the more you get. You kids have worked for me all summer, and now we get to enjoy the fruits of our work,” he paused momentarily to chuckle at his own pun, which I wouldn’t understand until a Social Studies teacher explained it to me some years later. “Jack, this tree,” he gestured to the one on his left, “is now your tree. You eat the first fruit from it, and we name it after you.” Jack’s eyes got big and his lips curved up into an ear-splitting grin. Grandpa then directed me to the tree on his right and said, “Here’s your tree, Jess.” I walked under the low-hanging, heavy-laden tree, and began my search for the perfect, first peach.
Jack, the impatient one, found the peach nearest to him and yanked it off the tree. I took more time, combing through the leaves, comparing the size and shade of each peach I saw, until I located one, about the size of my tiny hand, and carefully plucked it from amongst its peers. I turned towards Jack and Grandpa, noticing that Jack was no longer interested in waiting for me and was carelessly tossing his peach into the air. Oh well, I thought. I took my special peach and sank my teeth into the soft, fuzzy skin, giggling when the juices ran down my chin, wetting my shirt. Suddenly, Jack tossed his special peach too high and lost sight of it in the bright glare of the sun. At that exact moment, Maud gathered her haunches and leapt up, snatching Jack’s peach right out of the air. Seeing his special peach being shredded by the dog, Jack started crying. This was his first lesson about patience, and I couldn’t help but laugh. It was just so Jack. He wiped his tears on his shirt and said quietly, “It’s okay, Maud deserves the peach. I took a nap when you guys worked. I’ll have the second peach from the tree.” There may not be a difference to anyone else between that first peach and the second, but I know that my peach was sweeter.