About a year ago, my roommate, Joan, came home from visiting her mother in Louisiana and handed me a basket of kumquats she had picked off the tree in her mother’s yard. To the uninitiated, kumquats look like tiny oranges; they average about an inch in diameter and are bright orange, with a bumpy skin like an orange. I grinned, popped one into my mouth, and chomped down, skin and all. The instant the skin burst my mouth was flooded with the tangy, slightly sour taste of the juicy fruit, followed by the sweetness of the skin. I hadn’t seen kumquats in years and they certainly aren’t a staple in the grocery stores, but somehow I just knew they were supposed to be eaten skin and all.
Since that time I’ve had a craving for kumquats. They’re in season now and readily available at the downtown Farmer’s Market each weekend. I am simply incapable of walking by the kumquats without buying a basket. They make me feel good. Each time I bite into one, I get all warm and fuzzy inside. The way they make me feel has been a mystery to me until this past Saturday, when I arrived home with my weekly basket of kumquats. My mouth already watering in anticipation, I washed them off and immediately bit into one. Suddenly I flashed on a vivid memory of my mother handing me a kumquat when I was a little girl and explaining that they were to be eaten whole. My sweet and sour taste buds hadn’t yet developed at that young age, and I remember wrinkling up my nose at the initial tartness. Mom laughed and said something like, “That’s OK, just means more for me.”
Kumquats were not very common in those days, and we certainly didn’t have much money, so they must have been a real treat for Mom. She worked at a Jewel grocery store when we were kids and I suspect the produce manager gave them to her before they spoiled. Memories are strange things. We forget many of the most momentous occasions, yet remember something as simple as our first bite of a new fruit. I think I treasure that particular memory because it was just between the two of us; I have absolutely no recollection of her offering a kumquat to either of my sisters, both of whom are younger than me. Now, every time I bite into a kumquat I feel Mom’s spirit standing at my side, beaming at me with a smile that stretches across her face, and I am flooded with warmth and serenity. What a very special gift.