Tonight at the grocery store, I sorted through a late summer box of peaches. Picked each one up and smelled it to see if it would ever get ripe. Checked the soft skin for signs of brown rot. Looked at the stem spot to see if it was a split seed. I placed six in a plastic bag and thought for a few seconds about a boy I’ve had a crush on as long as I can remember.
His name is Jeffrey. I won’t say his last name but I will say that I bumped into his wife a few months ago and told her I wanted to write this story and she said it would be fine. And besides, if I didn’t tell you his name, I couldn’t tell you the story about how when I was in third grade and Daddy found a little abandoned puppy in the middle of the highway, I named that puppy Jeffrey after my secret crush. Until the next day, when Daddy broke the news that the puppy was female so I changed her name to Jeffy.
Our grandmothers were friends. Our mamas have been friends since the first day of Kindergarten. His mother and my father were neighbors and thick as thieves when they were kids. He and my sister were born just hours apart and were close friends. I sat and talked with his mama last month and ate a slice of her heavenly pound cake.
I think the last time I saw Jeffrey in person was when he sang at my Pop’s funeral. (Yes, in addition to being good-looking, smart, and kind, he can sing too.) At the graveside service, when he came over to say hello, I got the giggles. It’s that bad. I went up to his sister and confessed, “When your brother is toothless and slobberin’ and 100 years old, I will STILL think he’s the cutest thing in the world!” She said she would too. And my sister concurred as well.
So now that I’ve embarrassed myself and Jeffrey by extension, let me get to why peaches make me think of him. Back in the day, Jeffrey and I both worked at a peach stand in our home town. As the years went by, he took over the running of the peach stand and became The Boss.
One summer, oh THIRTY YEARS AGO, I worked for Jeffrey. I knew the responsibilities well. He would go to the farmers market to buy crates of peaches at the start of the week. Each morning, I’d sort through the peaches (it’s called “culling”) and throw the rotting ones or the split seeds into a box that swarmed with yellow jackets getting drunk on the nectar. We’d sell that whole box of culls for $5 to any ladies who were making jam that week. I’d take the good peaches and make up pretty baskets to display on the stand–$3 for the small, $5 for the medium, $7 for a peck.
One week, towards the end of the season, we got a lot of split seeds. That’s where the peach looks fine on the outside, but if you look up at the top, there’s a hole right down in the heart of it. Those will be rotten from the inside out. No good. Jeffrey told me clearly NOT to sell any split seeds, to pitch them in the cull box. Then he left. I started making baskets and EVERY peach was split. I sure didn’t want to let him down, but if I followed his instructions, they’d all have to be thrown out. I figured that people could get some use out of most of the peach, so I went ahead and sold them. The next day when I got to work, he was furious because he had had someone come back and complain about the peaches. I was crushed, but he was right.
He didn’t ask me to work for him anymore and I was heartbroken that I had let him down.
And here I am. Forty six years old and I still remember disappointing him whenever I buy peaches in the grocery store.
So Jeffrey, I apologize for that bad decision.
The other reason I wanted to write this is that I wanted Jeffrey to know how special he is. If I could pick a boy for my girls to adore, I would pick someone just like Jeffrey.
The other day, my friend Hester made a reference to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T. S. Eliot. It’s a poem narrated by a man who finds himself dithering into the end of his life, worried about how he is perceived as silly by those around him. He is coming to realize that he is not Prince Hamlet. His hair is thinning and he has “measured out (his) life in coffee spoons.” My favorite lines are these:
I grow old….I grow old….
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
Do I dare to eat a peach? Will I look silly if the juice runs onto my shirt? Will I become the topic of idle chatter?
While I was looking at those peaches in the grocery store tonight, and thinking of Jeffrey, and how I still feel bad for letting him down 30 years ago, and Prufrock’s peach, and the lessons of time, I realized this–we grow older but we only grow wiser if we let some of that stuff go. I have been carrying around that little kernel of shame about a mistake I made in 1984…since 1984. That’s just silly.
I am learning to apologize when I am wrong. Forgive myself when I am foolish. Be grateful for life-long friends. Run the risk of looking silly. Tell stories that remind people how special they are, still.
Dare to eat a peach.