“Write about ‘Meyer’ lemons.”
“CA poppies touched my butt.”
“Smelling the roses in front of Mary at Mission Basilica.”
I have a folder in my email titled, write. It’s mostly filled with emails from myself with one or two hastily written sentences of writing ideas. In the moment, these ideas seem fantastic, and I am sure that I will remember exactly what I meant when I wrote them.
One email says, “each leaf of tea.”
Another says, “that goat that time.”
I have the best of intentions to follow these sentences on a winding path to a great novel or personal essay or something that the NY Times would die to publish. Human interest stories about plants - what could be better? Mostly though, these emails stay in their folder and when I visit them on the rare occasion, I have no clue what the fuck I was talking about. “Write about ‘Meyer’ lemons” - Hmm, that doesn’t narrow it down. Should I write about how to grow them, the origin, a few recipes? I guess what pops up in my mind the most when I think of ‘Meyer’ lemons, is my Grandma Lee, who had a huge lemon tree in her back garden in San Francisco. It was planted back in the early 50’s, and by the time I was old enough to fall in love with it (around 5 years old), it was 1987 and the tree was enormous, with thick branches and bushels of foliage. My Grandpa Charles (pronounced, “Challles” with that old-fashioned native SF drawl, especially after a drink or two) pruned the tree in a uninspired rectangle, like most of the shrubs on the property. He was a good gardener, but not exactly a visionary when it came to design. I used to sit and watch him spray the shit out of the back orchard, filling the air with pesticides while I opened and closed the old brass spigot, watching the thick stream of water hit the pathway and bounce in different directions. I distinctly remember thinking, these chemicals are bad, as he sprayed the plum, apple and guava trees. But, a la The Godfather, I just sat and watched him, enamored with the visual and tactile delights of gardening. He wore a white tank top with slacks, and he smelled like church.
When winter came, the tree was filled with heaping clusters of fragrant lemons and virile bright green leaves. The garden was a traditional postage stamp-size, outlined by a thin concrete pathway, leading in a rectangular round-about, through the garden. The lemon was on the left, but it dominated the garden. We all loved that tree; grabbing lemons off of it almost year round. Pulling at the branches and gathering the citrus in outstretched clothing at the waist, letting them weigh down our t-shirts or hoodies. The soot from the city often covered the outer growing lemons and leaves, so I would go under the tree, harvesting from the middle. My grandma told us a story once of a tortoise that lived under the tree for many years. Every time I butt-scooted under it for a lemon, I’d secretly hope to find that tortoise. I never did - and still don’t really know the full story of why my grandparents had a giant tortoise in their city garden.
Originating in China, the ‘Meyer’ lemon was introduced to the US in 1908, and continues to grow excellently in the Bay Area - and in my opinion needs to be in every single garden. Beyond it’s great taste and medicinal qualities, it makes a lovely companion, planted along side of anything from succulents to roses. There’s little pretense with a tree like this, you just grow it and enjoy.
The lemon tree is still there, long after my grandparents passed away. Another owner is living in the house and I have always wanted to knock on the door and visit the garden again to see that tree.
The feeling of ‘Meyer’ lemons is what sticks with me the most. Origin is irrelevant. Recipes bore me. I want to spend time feeling like a little girl again - remembering what the blossoms smelled like for the first time and feeling the soft weight of harvesting lemon after lemon. Oils on the hands and green stains on our clothes.
“Write about 'Meyer' lemons”. One email down.