The peach tree
He is right. California is a good place. It is better than
most places, to be precise. But California isn't home.
July 4, 2005
There are nineteen peaches on our tree this year.
They are small and still green, but nonetheless they are still
is a number too few to feel proud of, but enough to appreciate
and to remember. This was the first year that the tree had borne
fruit -- the second actually, but the first time that the squirrels
and birds had not dispatched of the peaches prematurely. The squirrels
in particular raised the ire of my father, because they had the
habit of only eating half the peach and discarding the rest at
the base of the tree in a display of their power and our helplessness.
Baba called them Hezbollahis.
"What else do you call an animal that just descends to
The persimmon tree was smaller than our peach tree, but I thought
it was more beautiful. It has dark, vibrantly green leaves that
are almond shaped, and they wave gently when a breeze blows through
our yard. Last year, it had borne exactly one persimmon, tucked
neatly under protective cover of three leaves escaping the wrath
of the squirrels. Persimmons mature slower than other fruits, so
it was mid-September when we finally decided to pick it. My parents
insisted that my brother or I be the ones to pick the fruit off
the tree. They always did things like that; saving us the biggest
piece of meat, offering the first slice of watermelon, insisting
that you be the first to drink water after a long day of walking.
I picked it and my brother and I cut the persimmon up, and in
turn I said I wouldn't taste it until my parents had theirs
first. I don't really know if I like persimmons or not. It's
a strange, temperamental fruit with smooth glowing orange skin.
If you pick it too early, it is extremely tart and impossible to
eat, but when it is sweet, it's better than mango or papaya
but tastes like a plum or kiwi too. I don't know -- it's
just a persimmon. I haven't seen any on the tree this summer,
but maybe they don't blossom until later.
My dad's favorites are the grapes. When they arrived, the
vines were in plastic bags and no longer than my arm, but now they
have grown and spiraled up and outward. Baba went to Home Depot
or Lowe's or another one of those massive home improvement
stores two years ago and came back with four steel arches to fasten
the vines to. Now, it looks like he may have to buy more or drastically
prune the vines. The vines got sick last year, and we only ended
up with maybe 4 clusters of semi-sweet red grapes, but I know that
was his favorite harvest. We also tried in vain to grow a pomegranate
tree and an almond tree, but they didn't take well to the
New Jersey climate.
The rest of our small yard is crowded with tomatoes, cucumbers,
eggplants, peppers, and different kinds of herbs. They are the
featured items and meals are planned around when we have enough
tomatoes or eggplants to make this, or enough cucumbers to make
To me, it is normal, and one of the few symbols of an unbroken
path to my childhood. We have always done this everywhere we have
lived, creating gardens in the student housing community gardens
and later at our first house in Michigan. Later when we sold our
home and went into exile in Wisconsin, we didn't plant or
grow anything outside because we had no intention of permanence
or putting down roots. We had a small potted orange tree we kept
indoors, that we gave away to Mariam and her family when we moved
again, this time to the East Coast.
When we moved from Wisconsin to New Jersey, we had to live in
a townhouse at first. My brother and I would explore the towns
of Central Jersey looking for a good high school for him, and the
whole family would either drive around looking at neighborhoods
or take a walk through the Princeton campus in the evenings after
Those first few months were exciting -- we all felt as if we
had been set free. Wisconsin's people were no better than the
state's winters -- harsh, dull, and extremely cold. No one was
happy there; my mother had left behind a business in Michigan that
was poised to grow dramatically, my middle school-age brother felt
alienated and repulsed by the legions of ignorant blue-collar Wisconsin
white kids, and I had to complete my senior year of high school
away from my friends.
My father, whose job had brought us there,
tried to be positive most of the time, but remained silent when
one of us would vent our frustrations at our new environment. For
four years, we stubbornly clung to the notion that our time there
was temporary, and refused to buy a home there. We eventually depleted
the small some of money we had saved from the sale of our Michigan
home, so when we moved to New Jersey, we had no money to put down
for a house.
Still, we were just happy to be free. We were 45 miles from both
New York and Philadelphia, and the people seemed much more colorful
and interesting here than they did back in Wisconsin. My mom loved
their accents, my dad disapproved of their driving habits. My little
brother threw himself into life in New Jersey, and it was good
to see his anguish and anger dissolve and his playful personality
reemerge among cool new friends and cute new girls.
When we did finally find a neighborhood that we liked and could
afford to buy a house in, we drove by the house and looked at the
lot. It was in a new subdivision, one of the many cookie cutter
neighborhoods that seemed to be sprouting up all across American
suburbia. Still, I knew that the neighborhood would become beautiful
once the streets had trees. The house itself would be smaller than
our home in Michigan, but it was being built next to a beautiful
and secluded woodlot that had wild turkeys, deer, doves, and woodchucks.
There was also Wal-Mart's, Target, the Olive Garden, a diner
and strip malls close by as well, completing the suburban Jersey
After settling in, we did what we always did after moving; we
went to a nursery and bought trees. It felt different this time
from before. I felt that we had finally found our home, the place
that my parents would stay in and anchor our family to. Put down
roots. We selected a blue spruce pine for our front yard, roses
and annuals to line our driveway, and the fruit trees to create
the garden in the backyard. My mom and dad planted the flowers
while my brother and I dug holes for planting the trees. They were
small and delicate at the time, and I looked at them skeptically
wondering if they would grow at all.
Our trees in Michigan grew extremely fast. We had lived in our
house for four years, and in that time, our cherry tree and apricot
tree that we planted when we moved in both shot up to eight feet.
The summer that we moved from Michigan to Wisconsin, the cherry
and apricot trees, barren the first three years we had them, were
staggering from the weight of the fruit on their branches. We moved
in August, perhaps a few weeks too early to have picked the fruit
from the trees we had planted.
Still, the New Jersey trees did well. I would visit my parents' house
almost every weekend from Jersey City and later New York. I always
looked forward to the 50 minute train ride, watching the rough
cities of north Jersey fade into suburbs and the suburbs disappearing
behind the tangle of trees as I sped toward my new home, in a neighborhood
that still did not have all its houses built. It was an escape
from my pressure cooker reality in New York. Once a week, every
Sunday, almost like clockwork.
Every summer, the trees grew taller, the roses fuller, and the
house itself began to grow more attractive and distinctive looking.
I had grown comfortable in the thought that this would be the house
I always had the key to, could close my eyes and hear my parents
talking in, smell the food cooking in the kitchen. I saw
it as the house that I could always store my extra books or furniture
to temporarily while I completed my transient life as a graduate
student or moved into my next apartment, always looking for the
next best move. The house that my parents grew old in, the house
where eventually my own children would come to see their grandparents
and pick grapes and tomatoes and peaches in the summer, and patiently
wait for the persimmons that would be waiting for them in the fall.
I had grown comfortable and content.
When my parents told me last week that they were once again moving,
this time across the country in California, I was quiet for a minute.
They would be gone by the end of the summer. I saw the anxiety
and resignation in the faces and couldn't bear it, so I said
the things that I knew they needed to hear, and was strong for
them. Most of all, I tried to convince myself that this was for
Later that week, while my mom was at her Spanish class, my father
and I went to On the Border, a corporate Tex-Mex restaurant, and
one of many chain eateries that lined US Route One. In the car,
he asked me what I was feeling. I told him I wasn't sure,
because I knew the reasons why they had to go and I told him I
had reasons that I wanted them to stay here. I was embarrassed
to say that at 27, I didn't want them to be far away from
me. But I did. He drove on, and spoke while he continued to look
at the road.
"I don't like the fact that we will be separated
and far from each other. I never wanted that, and it's what
will be the most difficult. But I am taking the job because I have
always felt it was better to be ready-to take the chance to make
your decisions in life rather than have life decide your fate for
you. You know how life is here already."
He turned into the parking lot and turned to face me.
"I know this isn't ideal. But if we stay here, it
is only putting off the inevitable. One day the company will be
sold, and then our future is anyone's guess -- Nebraska, Wisconsin,
Minnesota -- and then what? Those are all the places we don't
want to be. California is a good place, and it doesn't come
calling that often."
I looked at him and nodded. Tried to smile but didn't quite
make it so I drank my beer and ate chips instead while Shakira
blasted from the speakers. My father is fifty seven years old.
He is still handsome and in good shape, although with less hair
than before. But something about him has always been younger than
me -- maybe that he has always been more of an idealist and optimist
than I have ever been. At peace with his decisions. I looked at
him, and was struck that at his age he could still take risks and
confidently make moves that I am starting to dread.
He is right. California is a good place. It is better than most
places, to be precise. California is year-round sunshine, the Pacific,
mariachi music and cold Cerveza. California is progressive, beautiful,
warm, and awash with Iranians "baavar kon, it's just
like Iran", although they have blond streaks and identity
issues. California is real Mexican food, almond and palm trees,
vineyards, multicultural, bilingual; California is towns with Spanish
names, San Frandiegos and endless LAs.
But California isn't home. California rudely reminds me
that although born here, I am my parents' son; ultimately
an accident of citizenship who can lay claim to nowhere and a fool
for thinking I could relegate my suitcases to the basement for
good. California is a pleasant interruption that I didn't
want, a six hour flight farther from everything important. It doesn't
come calling often, but like a typical jealous ex-lover, California
came calling at precisely the moment when we had found happiness
When we came back from dinner, we didn't discuss the move
anymore that night. Baba went outside to mow the lawn and water
the flowers. Maman came home from Spanish class, answered the phone
and started making tea. Restless, I went out to the backyard and
paced in the fading twilight. The peach tree is already taller
than me and will grow even more next summer. I looked at my father
inspecting the marigolds with the garden hose, my mother sitting
in the kitchen with her tea and laughing into the phone, and picked
one of the peaches for myself.