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We lived in the middle of an orange grove

July 3, 2006

About half of it once belonged to my great-grandfather. The nearest pavement was 1/2 mile away, across soupy sand (think dry fluffy beach sand). We learned to get a car unstuck by the time I was about eight, or so I recall (boards and shovels, dig out under the drive wheels, jam the boards in so they can get traction on something). Our parents got standard poodles to act as trouble-finding dogs, and they were great. Loyal as anything; if we took off in the rowboat without them (we had about a 2-acre pond in our backyard) they would swim out to the boat and climb in. One of the dogs survived something like three different snakebite incidents; standard poodles are big, tough dogs. We would sometimes go exploring in the grove, but not too much. One direction, there was a dry sinkhole, with some tangerine trees (their fruit was not that good) and an old irrigation shed up a hill. Another direction, was some big oak trees shading some beehives, and if we kept on going, another irrigation shed. That one was (originally) my great-grandfather’s, 200 feet deep, and it pumped sulfur water. Healthy enough to drink (lots of people lived on it in Florida) but stinky, especially when you sprayed it in the air. We were always a little wary of the sheds, because we were worried about snakes (diamondbacks, mostly, though we also had moccasins and coral snakes) and we were also worried about old bags of parathion, which was evil deadly stuff.

Parathion wasn’t used much. It’s deadly stuff, and the grove was specifically posted for “don’t even set foot in here” for about two weeks after they spray it. I have no idea who they got to drive the sprayers, or how they were dressed. Most of the time, what they sprayed was oil-and-sulfur, which would control scale, and also (I realized years later, after getting a whiff of nostalgia from a bag of sulfur) gave the whole grove a slightly sulfurous smell. I just grew up with it, and never noticed when I was young. One thing that you would notice, is when the citrus trees go into bloom. That was fabulous.

The grove was mostly oranges (valencias and pineapples) but my ggf had planted a “fancy fruit row” which was better than anything I’ve ever seen in the store, anywhere. I’m not entirely sure what they were. Sometimes I see familiar-looking fruit in a store, but when I buy it (rarely, nowadays) I am always disappointed. My ggf, or the previous owner of the grove, had planted some Duncan grapefruit, which were also for personal use on account of (begin whiny voice) they’ve got see-eeds (end whiny voice) so nobody would buy them, so no stores would sell them. Ugh. People are idiots. Yes, their taste was (and is) superior.

About a half-mile from our house, out near the school bus stop, were some avocados. Again, personal use, because there were only a few. My dad would pick the ones he could reach. The grove pickers would climb the tree, pick them, and toss them down to a catcher wearing gloves. Grove-picking looked like a pretty hard life, and tree-ripened avocados are a treat, and probably good for you too. One problem was that buzzards also like avocados, and they would take a few pecks out of quite a few fruit, leaving it not at all fit for human consumption.

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