I think it might’ve been Hallowe’en morning when I first noticed the persimmon tree in my neighbor’s yard, its dazzling orange globes suspended amid its broad and whispery leaves. It was such a beautiful morning anyway, and I was on my way, on foot, up towards Codornices Park and the canyons beyond, from our little house on Walnut St., out for the fresh air and some exercise. I’d probably walked past this same tree hundreds of times and never seen it, but on mornings such as this, all that by which we are constantly surrounded, as though it were merely the air we breathe (or not so merely, given its due) suddenly stands forth and demands our attention. And even the air we breathe, we notice, even that feels different on a morning like this one.
After I’d stood and admired this extraordinary tree for a few minutes, taken in its elegant, sinewy architecture, and its solemn luminosity, I began to think about persimmon pudding. I’ve never been quite sure what else to do with these kinds of persimmons. They’re no good till they’re very ripe, and, once ripe, their mission in life, it seems, is to fall apart.
So I wandered up the street, a week or two after my Hallowe’en walk, and knocked at the door of the lovely house in front of which this persimmon tree stood. Thanksgiving was now approaching, and it’s become my solemn duty to make persimmon pudding every year at Thanksgiving; I’ve done it now for some twenty-odd years. A very good-natured woman opened the door and we spoke briefly; we’d met several years back at a neighborhood picnic. I offered her a couple of bottles of wine if I could pick 7 or 8 persimmons from her tree. She was most agreeable, but wondered how it might be accomplished, since they’d already picked quite a few themselves, and those that were left were high up and seemed to be largely out of reach. I agreed she might have a point, but I said I’d bring my ladder and my pole-pruner, and see what I might be able to do.
It’s the funniest thing–you look at those gorgeous fruits floating above you, not really so very far out of reach, and it just doesn’t make sense that you can’t get them down. Not unless, perhaps, you’re willing to risk destroying them, by shaking the tree and causing them to fall, or possibly by trying to climb to them, on a tree that can’t possibly support your weight, thus ruining the tree (and possibly breaking your neck!).
But with some care I was able to pick a few, sparing the lovely tree any damage. Yet they weren’t really as ripe as I’d hoped, and after what felt like a very short time, I decided that it made more sense to get my persimmons for Thanksgiving at the produce store, and to leave these beautiful orbs to hang where they could still dazzle anyone fortunate enough to pass by and notice them.
But I could still feel the tug of the impulse to find some means of acquiring the fruit. There was something at work in me here that kept snagging my attention, and though I’d probably felt the same impulse hundreds of times before, this time, at least, it had found its way into consciousness. An image came to mind—my 12th grade English teacher had a Browning quote carved into the wooden lectern from which he spoke to his classes: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Other perspectives clamored at me, as well: the “Bird in the hand and two in the bush” fable. A Hawthorne story about a gifted man who (if I remember correctly) creates an exquisite mechanical butterfly, and in doing so seems to achieve an almost Divine status, and ends up being destroyed by his own success. The village in Vietnam (the temples in Iraq) destroyed in order to save it. Perhaps it was a persimmon tree by which Eve tempted Adam? An impulse based on a fundamental misapprehension. A guy could get himself into a lot of trouble if he’s not careful.
I retreated with my ladder and pole pruner, and made a note to myself to return later with the wine I’d promised. Even though I’d harvested fewer of the persimmons than I’d requested, and under-ripe at that, I felt like Jack with his magic beans.
Truthfully, this had been quite a day. Thanks to some friends in my wine circles, I’d come across a story on the internet from an ABC news station in Oregon about a woman in Florida who, one afternoon ten years ago had fixed herself a grilled cheese sandwich, and, after taking a bite from it, had noticed, on the surface of the toasted bread, what looked to her to be the image of the Virgin Mary. She immediately placed the remainder of the sandwich in a plastic, sealable sandwich bag, and inserted some cotton-balls along the edges, and sealed the bag. She claimed that, after that, “not a single spore of mold” has ever grown thereon. The story came to light because the 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich just sold on eBay for $28,000 to an online Casino in Florida, one Golden Palace.com. The gentleman who spoke for the casino indicated that as soon as they learned about the sandwich they knew they “just had to have it, no matter how much money it took.”
I read the story on line, at the TV station’s website. There’s a picture of the sandwich, in its sealed bag, held in the fingers of the woman who put it there. The image on the bread is quite striking. But it didn’t look a bit like the Virgin Mary to me. It looked like Jean Harlow.
I booted up the homepage of GoldenPalace.com. They had a story up about the sandwich; it’s quite dramatic. And you can get a t-shirt with the sandwich pictured on it for twenty bucks. Interestingly, when I clicked on this t-shirt image my computer crashed.
As Warren Zevon once implored us: “Enjoy every sandwich!” Miracles are happening all the time. Hell, it probably is a miracle the sandwich didn’t rot.
I think it’s interesting that the Virgin Mary appears in one person’s heart, and Jean Harlow in another’s. I had relatives like that when I was a kid. I was born left-handed, and my great-grandmother used to slap me when I’d use that hand, and stare at me like she wanted to drive a stake through my heart. Her favorite people in the world were Oral Roberts and Billy Graham. Her daughter, my father’s mother (whom I never met, but whose picture I’ve stared at for hours) was one of the most beautiful women who ever walked on this Earth, and I’m convinced that it nearly drove my great-grandmother wild, imagining the lust young “Bobbie” Roberts surely inspired in men. She had two other daughters, one of whom, nearly as beautiful as her sister, operated a bordello in San Francisco, in the old Barbary Coast. (The third daughter strained to be pious, and prayed not to turn to stone.) Everybody’s got their redeeming features; when I was eight I once saw my great-grandma catch a parakeet with her bare hands! That seemed like a miracle at the time.
I dropped off the bottles of wine as promised, the morning after my persimmon harvest, stepping over a fallen (ker-sploosh!) persimmon on the walkway to the front door. Any trace of covetousness toward the remaining fruit was gone. I felt cleansed. I’m beginning to think there aren’t many stories that don’t, eventually, lead us back around to our own hearts, which seems to be the place where most of the real miracles unfold. And I’m sure we could use a few of those just now. Sooner the better!
Progress sweeps across the land, from San Jose to Indio;
They say one of these days I might live until the end of time.
Ah, but there’s nothin new under the Sun, no matter where you go;
You’re always gonna find yourself back at the scene of the crime…
(Son Of The Redwood Coast And the Chaparral 2003 Steve Edmunds)
peace to you, in this dark season, turning