Watermelons & Citrus

Ygdrasil 2013 Canada The First Ezine on the web

 

I didn’t get a gift box of grapefruit and oranges from Florida in January like the rest of the family did, so I didn’t expect my Aunt Goldie’s June watermelon call. “Expect the unexpected,” my great Uncle Hymie once told me.

I was eleven and hadn’t seen him in almost a year. He was as big as my grandfather, his brother, tall with a huge belly spilling over his belt like sour cream on a latke. And, like his three brothers, Uncle Hymie had a massive head that seemed as if it were plopped onto his shoulders.

I ran up to him, arms wide open to give him a hug. He sidestepped me at the last moment and stuck his foot out, tripping me. I ended up bawling after skinning my knee and bumping my head on the concrete. He picked me up, laughing and saying “shhah” and with each “shhah” a blast of Hymie whiskey breath came at me. Uncle Hymie held me and hugged and kissed me.

If I had expected the unexpected I would have been prepared for his next move--dropping me onto a pile of dog doo on the lawn, but I was new at this and he wasn’t. He laughed so hard he had to sit down on the curb to keep from falling.

Whenever he visited after that, I spent the time alternately avoiding him and torturing him. After all, he had to learn to expect the unexpected also. I never told him or anyone that it was me who put the garden snake under his car seat, not even when he called from a gas station on the Merritt Parkway asking to be picked up because he crashed his car when a snake crawled up his leg. My grandfather and two uncles picked him up, but instead of bringing him home they brought him to a place to “dry out.”

“Snakes. Of course he sees snakes with all the schnapps he drinks. I’m surprised he doesn’t see the Czar,” my grandfather grumbled. Then he took out a bottle of Four Roses and poured shots for anyone around who wanted one, and that included twelve year old me.

When Uncle Hymie finished drying out he stayed at my grandparents for a while and I remember playing outside and capturing another garden snake. I stood on the cellar hatchway door looking in the window until I caught his eye. Then I waved the snake back and forth. He stared at the snake and broke out into large beads of sweat. I saw my uncle nudge my aunt and nod at Hymie’s leaking face. He looked at me. It wasn’t a nice look. I tossed the snake in the bushes and went back into the house.

In the kitchen I took a paper bag and blew air into it and twisted the top. I then went into the dining room and took my place at the table. No one said anything about the paper bag.

Uncle Hymie stopped wiping his face dry and grabbed the serving spoon from the brisket. He beat the bag. He really whacked it. He was ferocious with his thunderous poundings. “Snakes,” he mumbled with each hit. Gravy splattered everywhere, hitting faces or clothes or both. Finally, my grandfather opened what remained of the bag and showed Hymie that it was empty.

Hymie collapsed in his chair waiting for the rest of the family to thank him for saving them. Instead, he was led to the couch, his head and face swathed in cold compresses, but he only began to calm down when my grandfather brought him a shot of schnapps. “Expect the unexpected,” I said to him on my way out the door. He looked at me not knowing what the hell I was talking about.

“Want a watermelon, fresh from Florida?” My Aunt Goldie asked me when I answered the phone.

“When did you get into town?” I asked.

“Just got in. Meet me at Jimmys in Savin Rock for lunch and you can get your melon.”

“Listen,” I told her, “If you’d like to get settled first I can bring some lunch over to your house and pick up the melon.”

“Some other time,” she said. “I’ve got a load of these melons to deliver.

I tried every way to get invited to her house but nothing worked. In front of other family members she complained that I never visited her, but on weekends when she invited the family for a cookout, I was excluded. She never told me why, but I knew. She was afraid that I’d bring Flo. She hadn’t spoken to her sister Flo in four years; except for the time she forced her way into Flo’s apartment and threatened her. Flo was in her early eighties at the time and Goldie was a mere kid of seventy-five. It wouldn’t have been a fair fight.

Flo answered the knock on her door and was totally surprised to see Goldie standing in her hallway. “Goldie, come in. I was just about to have lunch, join me.”

Goldie shoved Flo out of the path from the door to the apartment, walked over to the breakfront and took out two brass candlestick holders. Holding them like barbells, she said, “Don’t try to stop me or I’ll brain you with these.”

Still leaning against the wall where she was shoved, Flo said, “All you had to do was ask me for them, you didn’t have to resort to this.”

“Those are my candlesticks and you’ve kept them for eight years. Enough is enough.”

“These were Lilly’s and I took them when she died. Why didn’t you say something before?”

“Because I was hoping you’d come to your senses and not make me make a scene.” Goldie walked out, but not before pushing Flo with her shoulder further into the wall. “This is your fault,” Goldie said. “You always try to get your own way.”

Whatever resentment she harbored against me during the January citrus season had apparently passed and I would never know what it was. That’s probably not true. She would most likely let it out during some unrelated moment of anger aimed at someone else but using my transgression as a means to prove her point.

The Rosinoff Convention, (which my family goes by, but doesn’t know it) stipulates that at least three years have to go by before something can be used in this way. Waiting over ten years is required to use the Rosinoff “Year One” Trump. It was a mutant family gene that allowed these sisters to remember an injustice from the ‘Year One’ and insert it into an argument as proof of their point. Every adult in the family had earned her “year one” black belt.

Aunt Goldie was waiting for me in the parking lot of Jimmys with a back seat filled with large melons. She looked great. Her hair, a natural silver as it had been for as long as I could remember, shone in the sunlight. She had my grandmother’s pink cheeks and smooth complexion; and she had a quick and frequent smile, unlike any of her siblings. “Which one is mine?” I asked after kissing her hello. The kiss was accepted but not returned.

“Always with the questions. What difference does it make? They’re all perfect. Straight from a Florida farm and picked only three days ago. I made good time driving up. No, anyone but that one,” she said as I struggled to lift one out of the back seat of her coupe.

“I thought they were all the same,” I said.

“They are,” she said, “But not that one.”

This conversation would have taken place no matter which one I picked first.

“How about this one?” I asked.

“You have to ask? They’re all the same--take any one.”

“Okay,” I said lifting the original melon after touching and pushing each one a bit.

“Good choice,” she said. “He’s calledMinskand happens to be my personal favorite.”

My Aunt Goldie named everything. Her car was called Rollin, her toaster oven Bernie, and when she shopped she’d stand in front of the squash or whatever fruit or vegetable she was about to select and call out a name. “Schlomo? Where are you Schlomo? I’m here to take you home.” And then she’d rifle through the squash bin until she found “Schlomo” and scold him for hiding. “Just for that,” I heard her say once to a zucchini, “I’m going to take you home and cut you up into little pieces and throw you into a pan of hot oil.”

It’s a good thing that Goldie never had children. She knew the name of every item she owned, including her clothes, but she couldn’t remember any of her great nieces or nephews’ names. Every boy was “Julius” and the girls were all “Ethel”. Her feet were firmly planted in the air.

Once inside Jimmys we were lucky enough to get a window seat looking over Long Island Sound. “What a great view,” I said.

“How can you eat that traif?” she asked as I forked another fried clam belly into my mouth. “It’s traif that causes hemorrhoids,” she stated. I watched her dip her fried shrimp into the cocktail sauce and tried my best not to think about her toches.

“They’ve gotten chintzy with their cocktail sauce,” she said. This was a conversation we had every year--that is every year that I was watermelon good.

“What year,” I asked her, “do you suppose the Jimmy family sat around and said, “Let’s up our profit margins. Any ideas?” And one of the up and coming little Jimmys says, “Yeah, we give too much cocktail sauce, cut it way down. Make ‘em ask for more.””

“Okay,” Jimmy said, “from now on we go chintzy on the cocktail sauce. Anything else?” 

“Very funny, Aunt Goldie said, “But if you think making fun of me is the key to my heart  you’re much mistaken.”

“I’m not making fun,” I said, “I’m teasing.”

“Call it what you will,” she said, “but I don’t find it amusing?”

 

“Sorry,” I said. “By the way, how come shrimp isn’t traif anymore?”

 

Shaking her head in disgust at my ignorance, she said, “Because everyone eats it, that’s why.” And I knew there’d be no box of citrus coming my way in January.

 

 

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