Richard’s Lemons

Posted: 17 February 2010 in Riding

Richard's Lemon Tree: Before

Start to finish it took about 45 minutes.  Lemons that would never be harvested by a man too old to climb a ladder to get them

(“They won’t let me up there anymore.”)

packed up and shipped off to a local food bank.  As I worked, Richard talked.  It started when he realized that I would trim his tree as well as pick his fruit (he was like a kid at his birthday when I offered to get up on the roof and do some serious hacking–“Let me get the ‘loppers'”).  It had galled him for some time that his tree was growing over the roof of house and shielding his solar panels.

My son just got into that business–hooked me up with water heater for the pool and got one back there that generates my electricity.  My whole bill last YEAR was only $100 dollars!  They pay you back for what you make.

The more I trimmed, the more animated he got–hauling branches off to the sidewalk to be picked up later.  He was energized and, as Gerry Rafferty wrote in my youth (slight paraphrase)

And he asked me where I’d been
I told him who I’d seen
And we talked about anything…

Richard's Lemon Tree: After

Richard walked me through a life (after I asked about his “USS Bush” hat and told him my dad was a navy man in WWII) that was a story of a generation:  Placed in a boys home at 14 because his widowed mom couldn’t take care of him (result of the last depression), he learned he could earn extra money in the service to support his mom and so ran away (again and again) until they let him join.  Already the military was the one place a poor, homeless kid could go to try to get something. Proto-military-industrial-complex…

Richard worked and lived all over–from Bismarck, to Jackson; from Omaha to Manhattan, from Dayton to Davis.  Dayton was the important one because that was the home of NCR–National Cash Register.  That is where Richard worked all those years and as I picked and trimmed his story and the story of NCR flowed together through time.  Ironically, in all those years of him moving around for the company, it stayed put… Until recently that is… (see Deneen). He moved

I couldn’t keep up with the changes so I got into management.  You know they invented the ATM?  I couldn’t do that.  Management was my way.

and moved and made a life and the company helped save the world from Hitler and the Japanese and then just kept growing and making and innovating and he stayed until retirement.  When he asked what I “do” and I told him (as I always do–it’s easier–to find a one sentence answer than to tell people what I really do) that I work in child health–nutrition, his response was curious but apt for a man thinking back over life that had somehow brought him to this point–to this lemon tree that needed pruned and harvested.

Nutrition, that’s important.  Raised four boys–always tried to feed them well.  Think we did okay but you never knew.

Richard’s story–his life–made me forget the picking (lemon trees have nasty thorns and I have the cuts to prove it) and before I knew it we had a two full boxes and were up the present day with his reminder

They won’t let me up on a ladder anymore.

When we left (after harvesting another lemon tree AND a large grapefruit tree), I thought Richard might cry.  He put a hand on my shoulder and thanked me–thanked me–for taking his fruit away.  Inside I wondered if Richard was so glad to have his trees cleared of fruit (“Will you all come back for apples in the fall and more citrus next year?”) or whether there was something more…

A narrative of a life that had stayed mostly in his head had found a way into the sun–thanks to a lemon tree.  And we all left with a sense that it was a story that was worth hearing.

And the lemons were fantastic.

Richard's Lemons For the Foodbank


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