The peach tree

by Brian Clarey

I am routinely astounded this spring by the peach tree that flourishes in a corner of my backyard. It’s a low, bushy affair, loaded to abundance with early fruit that weighs down the thin boughs. There must be hundreds of peaches forming in this tree, each beginning to sport a deep flush of red beneath downy white fuzz, and when I circle the yard to sneak peeks at it or pause in its shade with my lawnmower I am every time struck by the powerful display of fertility and a vivid mental image of the ripe, juicy peaches —which, incidentally, are my favorite fruit — that are to come.

I will pick them and wash them. I will boil them down into jelly or jam, press them for juice (and, perhaps, a little wine). I will puree them into a cold summertime soup, chop them and bake them into pies. A few of them I will bite into fresh off the tree, allowing the juice to course down my chin and onto my shirt. And at some point there will be a tremendous cobbler, enough for all who want.

In the past I always bought my peaches at the store. I, in fact, did not even realize that the tree in my yard was a peach tree until we had lived there five years and it seemingly burst one June into scads of golden and rosy fruit, mottled though it was with bug scars and skin rot. I decided then and there to see if I could coax edible fruit from the tree and its neighbor, a tall, green apricot tree planted on the slope.

Last year I diligently pruned the boughs of each, and purchased an organic bug spray that supremely reeked of rancid fish-head oil and Vitamin B. Both trees bloomed early last spring, and a late-season frost destroyed any hope of fruit, nothing to show for the year’s growth save for icy flower petals scattered on the ground.

But optimum conditions conspired this year for a banner crop — at least from the peach tree. The apricots have yet to follow suit.

I spent much time this past weekend looking at my peach tree in the corner of the yard. My wife and our daughter had gone down to Myrtle Beach for a girls’ weekend with relatives while the boys and I were left home to make a go of it. The original plan was to bring the Xbox 360 to Winston-Salem and hole up in a hotel room stocked with cold drinks, salty snacks and some form of chocolate, hunker down and give ourselves thumb cramps.

This was not to be: Graduation weekend, while a boon to local hoteliers, prevented us from securing a room. No matter — the boys and I loaded up the larder with thick-sliced country bacon, some steaks and those farm eggs with double yolks. We picked up a few new video games, kicked a clear space on their bedroom floor and set about mastering video challenges. In between there was a trip to a pizza buffet and an expedition to the history museum at Battleground Park accompanied by a walk through the wooded trails. But most of the time it was the two of them in their room locked in virtual combat while I did things like sort laundry, wash dishes and walk the yard, pondering the significance of my fabulous peach tree.

The boys are coming along wonderfully, interfacing with the world around them with increasing sophistication, becoming kinder and more tolerant with each passing season, growing like they’re getting paid to do it. I caught myself watching them this weekend, eavesdropping on their conversations, appreciating them in a way that I cannot when I’m trying to get them dressed and fed and on the bus in the morning, or arguing over unfinished dinner, or asking them to for god’s sake please clean up that pigsty of a room.

It’s amazing to me that these are my children, that somehow my wife and I have managed to bring them along this far without misplacing or seriously injuring them. We’ve been parents for just about 10 years now, and it seems we’re finally getting the hang of it.

Like the peaches that finally ripen in the corner of our yard after so many barren seasons, our children are starting to show the results of the better parts of their upbringing. There have been missteps along the way, to be sure: a few cold winters to endure, some deficiencies in the soil to be overcome, a host of external influences like bugs and fungi that require timely countermeasures. As farmers and as parents, we learn more every growing season.

Out in the yard, the peaches endure. They soak in the sun and rain, swell on the branches and await their moment. Three weeks, I say. Four at the most. Then it’s peach cobbler for everybody.