My father had a lot of expectations of me when I was growing up and expectations came with Rules. If my handwriting was not neat enough, he would tear out the page of my homework and make me rewrite it with rounder o’s and straighter t’s. He once threw a whole notebook into the fireplace because of poor penmanship. On sunny days I prided myself on the fact that my handwriting rivaled that of my elementary school teacher and on gloomy days I told myself the lie all of us told ourselves at that age: “I refuse to ever put my children through this.”
There was one expectation my father held that I never dreamed of failing, in part because over the years, it became my expectation too: He, my mother and I would sit down and share at least one meal every day. My two brothers were exempt from this requirement, having fled to a different city where pretty handwriting was optional and eating in front of the TV was allowed. My mother felt she should contribute a Rule too and she chose orange juice. I had to drink a glass of orange juice at this meal. Not the delicious full-of-preservatives sugary goodness you can buy at the store. The kind that you squeeze and, if you leave out too long, turns grey-ish, bitter, and undrinkable. Nobody can fault a mother for ensuring her stubborn daughter take in her Vitamin C, but I certainly did at the time.
My least favorite part of the orange juice ritual were the seeds. I reasoned that if I am made to drink orange juice, it should at least be strained. My mother patiently put it through the strainer – twice, to catch the strays. Every time she gave me my smooth, seed-free, pulp-free glass of juice, she would remark that I was of the “cereal, central heating and computers generation” and how would I ever live in the world.
Nearly two decades have passed since those days. I have learned to share my stomach with parasites. Gone to bed hungry because of food rations and shortages. Woken up to gunfire, rockets, burglars. I lost my MacBook to a hurricane. Every time I wrote on a blackboard during a field work project, someone would tell me my handwriting is pretty and every time I was offered juice, I would stay away from orange. Pomegranate, mango, and strawberry beat out the fruit of choice of 1990s Greece.
This past weekend, Elijah read in the paper that there are anemones blooming in the desert. We live in a region in which blooming flowers make the news. So, Elijah rented a car and made it our mission to find the anemones. I was shy to pronounce them; my Greek origin triumphed over my command of English and I put the stress on the ‘o’ syllable – with the nes rhyming with the first syllable of Nescafe. We drove to Haifa to Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to the coast to the border with Gaza to the barrier with the West Bank. To villages and kibbutzes and gas stations in between. One of those kibbutzes was filled with orange trees. My loved one pulled over and bought a whole bag of fresh oranges. I proceeded to do the worst possible job of peeling an orange for a driver, resulting in sticky hands for both of us, orange stains on clothes, and the rental car floor carpeted with seeds.
Today I ate my first full orange since the days of penmanship and family dinners and strained orange juice. I made sure to pick out the seeds one by one. Somewhere up there, my father must be smiling and I hope that my mother is too.