There were lychees at the grocery store today. In a tiny bowl, covered in fruit flies, there were ripe lychees that did not, for once, cost the typical Midwest premium of $100 for 3. They were $2.49 per pound.
I didn't buy that many. Just a few - in case they were rotten or otherwise unsavory. They're not from around here, you know.
When I got home, I put them on a small correll plate I inherited from my grandmother (who went by "Gram" in order to avoid a baby-talk-inspired nickname like "Nana" that would seem undignified) and I took this tiny low-res photo. (My children have used up almost all my phone's memory with videos and selfies and unflattering candid shots of me before I've had my coffee).
And then I peeled one and I took a bite and it was perfect. I closed my eyes and was instantly in Gram's kitchen - one of the happiest places I have ever been.
In the backyard of the home in Bradenton, Florida that Gram lived in for all of my life until she could no longer care for herself, there was an enormous lychee tree. Enormous doesn't even begin to describe that tree. That tree WAS the backyard. That tree was epic.
I was shorter then, but in my mind, that tree was a good 2.5 stories tall. And, in the summer, it was burdened with more lychees than could be picked or consumed by my grandparents and three granddaughters and the several local Asian families who would come by and ask to buy them. She gave them away in large paper grocery bags, she traded them for other fruit, I ate my weight in them daily when I was visiting, and still, the backyard would become carpeted by the fallen, rotting lychee carcasses of fruit that grew higher than granddad's ladder or ripened faster than we could pick.
It rendered the backyard almost completely useless. I was barefoot most of the time as a child in Florida and lychee peels are prickly.
Lychees are an Asian delicacy. Most people I know either have never heard of them or never tried them or don't like them. They are probably an acquired taste. Both my kids said "Yeah...these are good." But they said it in a slightly higher pitch than their normal speaking voices - probably just to humor me- and they didn't ask for seconds.
They are missing a lot, though, because lychees taste like everything that is good.
They taste like lazy summer days.
They taste like raucous laughter and story-telling and home-cooking from scratch.
They taste like three generations of extended family spending their evenings around a table together, by choice, because it was everyone's favorite thing to do.
They taste like walking around the block at dusk with your sister and your cousin, speaking to the palm trees you've named over the years, hurrying past that one haunted house at the end of the block, picking air plants, cooing over baby lizards scurrying across the sidewalk.
They taste like that blissful moment each evening when the clock struck 6pm and the one window air-conditioning unit was finally clicked on (because running the air during the day in July in Florida is an exercise in futility and, as such, a waste of money according to Gram).
They taste like a drawer full of costume jewelry to play with.
They taste like 4th of July at the beach.
They taste like the distant memories of long-gone moments that you were certain, at the time, would never ever change.
They taste like unconditional love.
And they're really sweet and juicy, too.
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