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Chasing anemones and penmanship

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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.

17 Comments

  1. Thank you very much for the lovely comments, everyone. The first orange I had in years tasted delicious and there is no way I will let this much time pass before I sample another one. I relate to many of you saying that recollecting one’s childhood can be a difficult and painful process, but I am still grateful for moments that trigger a memory that allows me to revisit those years. And I am most grateful for all of you and your support. Thank you again – and happy orange tasting!

  2. PS thanks for your comment … I’m glad to know the anemone concept makes sense to you too! Thanks for taking deep breaths with me, all the way across the ocean. 🙂

  3. Just to keep myself from writing twelve sentences that say the same thing: You are a gift. I am so grateful that you write here and I am so glad you are safe tonight.

  4. Oh my! So exquisite are your thoughts and writing, Roxanne!! The pictures are the icing on the cake of your words. Thank you for sharing! You put a smile on my face with the imagery of you peeling the orange in the car! I’ve never seen an Anemone – so thank you for the photos! They are beyond beautiful!

  5. Roxanne, your words are simply gorgeous, as always. Your story about your parents reminds me a teeny bit of the “Tiger Mom” book by Amy Chua that has been making the rounds lately! I hope it wasn’t quite as bad, but it’s interesting what the results of parenting can be, years later.

    The anemones look beautiful.

  6. Roxanne,
    I can’t recall your handwriting and I even less so can I recall what beverages you consumed on a regular basis while at school, but I love how clearly I can hear you tell this story in my head. I can hear your voice reading these words, and it’s simultaneously a strange and obvious idea, but I feel as if I’ve been able to become reacquainted with you through this thing called blogging. You were such an important presence in my first two years at Harvard, and then you were gone for the last two, and it’s difficult to believe how much we have both grown and changed in that short a time. Anyway, I really love the little comments you leave on my blog because it’s so nice to think that despite the time and distance separating the last time we saw each other in person, we can keep updated on one another’s lives in this way. So thank you! I suppose I’m waxing nostalgic today. : ) I loved this entry, as I have loved all the entries you have written, and I also (forgive my botanical ignorance!) learned that anemones grow elsewhere besides the sea.

    Love,
    Michelle

  7. Such an insightful post. It really brought back some memories to me too.

    It’s quite rare these days to hear of someone going to bed hungry. Waking to gunshots, and still be able to compose a reflective piece like this.

    “We live in a region in which blooming flowers make the news”

    There’s also someone writing about such a place too. This makes a difference

  8. Oy, this is a painful story for me to read. I grew up in a house of abuse where a father making a daughter do anything was a violent story – not merely one of a parent and a child and the parent knowing best. The lie I told myself was that I’d never have children, so I’d never pass on any of the characteristics of my father. The truth is sometimes I think I’d like to be a mother so I can prove to him I wouldn’t screw up my child. That certainly is more typical. I still can’t drink orange juice or eat oranges.

    However, I do love anemones and in the brief years I worked as a florist they were always my favorite to put into bouquets. They are actually very fragile flowers once they are cut, rarely lasting long out of water.

    In the end, this post makes me smile through tears. It’s a truly beautiful story.

  9. These photos are gorgeous.

    Your words are gorgeous.

    They are so complicated and intense and tied into one another, these emotions and tastes and images and colors. Just like life.

    (I must say also that I’m amazed you wrote about anemones today — I did too, but the kind that grow in the sea! Do you think it’s possible for people to be riding along the same mental current, even if they are thousands of miles apart?)

  10. What an amazing story Roxanne. How did that orange taste after all those years?

    And this “He once threw a whole notebook into the fireplace because of poor penmanship.” CRAZY!

    My parents were nuts about please and thank you. If we were out to eat and I didn’t thank the waitress or say please, I’d get a raised eyebrow from either parent that meant I was going to get it when I got home!

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