October 21, 2018: A Simple Smell Takes me Back

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Though I have been in Cuenca for nearly two months, I only recently started hanging out on the rooftop terrace of the condo. Of course that was pretty much a function of the colder weather. The first day I spent the morning, having my coffee on the rooftop, I found it quite enjoyable, and didn’t feel motivated to leave. Eventually, I finished the last chapter in the book I was reading, A Morbid Taste for Bones (The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael Book 1), and headed out to do my grocery shopping.

It hadn’t seemed very warm on the terrace, by the time I was halfway down the block from the condo, I realized that my rain oat (40% chance of rain) was going to be too warm for walking around town that day. Up ahead of me I saw a woman sitting on street corner, with a wheelbarrow filled with fruit. I had been planning on buying fruit from her for some days, but I had never saw her as I was heading back to the condo. I didn’t want to carry the fruit all around town with me.

Since I was going to have to go back to the condo to leave the raincoat and pick up my umbrella, I continued walking and bought a bag each of strawberries and tangerines from her, before turning around.


Later in the day, after all my shopping was done. I sat down to watch some YouTube, and eat some of the fruit. To be perfectly honest, when I bought the citrus, I didn’t know what it was. As soon as I poked my thumbnail through the skin, I realized what I had was tangerines.


These tangerines were exceptionally fresh, I suspected that they had been on the tree that morning. As I ate the sections, which were as sweet as candy, I began remembering. As I was growing up, we didn’t have tangerines during the year, only at Christmas time. The smell took me back. The stockings we hung on the mantle of the fireplace were not store-bought, nor the result of craft projects. They were the same socks we wore every day. Of course my brother and I used the longest socks we owned, so as to get as much loot as possible.

After my older sisters tried their best to ruin Christmas for me, by telling me there was no Santa, and my brother reluctantly confirmed this, our parents gave up on hiding the presents from us. Years later I found that my mother’s hiding place, had simply been the trunk of the car. She wasn’t the sort to spend all year shopping. Only a few days before Christmas, she would do all her shopping and just leave everything in the car, since it would have been very unusual for someone to try to break into a car that far out in the country.

After there was no more reason to keep them hidden, the presents were wrapped and placed under the tree as soon as they were bought. I remember that once my parents had blown off finishing shopping until the very last day the stores were open. I think it might have actually been Christmas Eve. My brother went with my father to buy presents for me and my mother, and my mother and I bought presents for my brother and father. We used the wrapping services at the stores, an unusual expense for our family, so that we couldn’t peek to see what we had gotten. The older girls were married and gone by then. Shopping with my family on an evening that was so unusually cold for Georgia, and really seemed like Christmas, was one of my fondest memories.

Though she was no longer hiding presents, my mother still had a few tricks up her sleeve. When she put cards on the presents bought days before Christmas, she put cards addressed to me on my brother’s presents and cards to my brother on mine. I still remember my brother palpating the wrappings of the tea-set I had desperately wanted for my stuffed animal’s tea parties.
“I can feel the transformer here,” he said, as he ran his fingers around the squarish teapot, under layers of formed plastic and gay wrapping paper.
“I feel some bumps, it must be the cups,” I said from the other side of the tree, as tried to feel though the plastic window over his slot car set.
The trick worked a little better with the other presents we got that year, as we sized up each package and tried to guess what it was.

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My brother with his first (unneeded) razor.

On Christmas morning when we had drug our parents out of bed, and into the living room, we would find our stockings laying on the hearth, looking like overstuffed anacondas. I always knew that the round lumps were tangerines. What didn’t fit into the stockings was a lone coconut laying near them. Another one of our christmas rituals was pounding that coconut open after having poking out the three eyes and draining the juice. My brother and I would drink that nasty old coconut juice with flecks of coconut fiber in it, thinking it was a great treat. We didn’t learn until we had (on separate trips) really fresh coconut juice while visiting my second sister in the Dominican Republic.

Opening the coconut was part of the fun of the day. I am still amazed that we didn’t lose a finger, considering we attacked them with everything a machete to the axe at the wood pile. There was also always a large bowl of a variety of nuts in the shell, which tempted us to try to smash our fingers between the hearth and a ball peen hammer.

As the years went past, no matter where I was at, I bought tangerines at Christmas Time, even though,I bought them whenever I could throughout the year. If I could find one, I would get a coconut as well. Eventually after I got out of the academy and my parents had gone their separate ways, mother and I set up housekeeping together. Some Christmases I was at sea, but others, when I was home we kept the tradition of the fruit and nuts.


The year mother and I gave each other the exact same presents; robes, house shocks, electric blankets, snow shovels, and Franklin Spelling Aces. Only the huge jar of macadamia nuts, I gave her were not duplicated. 

When my seagoing career stalled out, and I joined the Coast Guard. Mother and I moved into government housing, which was so far north of Boston, that we were almost in New Hampshire. The good thing about the Coast Guard, was they did their best to make sure the cutters were not at sea on christmas day. Mother and I had some great Christmases when I was stationed in Boston. But never a white Christmas, though we had to dig our cars out of the snow the rest of the winter. Always we had the tangerines, though coconuts had become hard to find at that time of year for some reason.


So many memories in one small fruit.

Categories: Americas, Childhood Memories, Ecuador, food, History, Nomad's Food, TravelTags: , , , , , , ,

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