We tend to associate nostalgia with a level of sadness, but when an incident takes us back to years ago, isn’t it a rare gift to be treasured? Last week, I was offered a chance to make an imaginary U-turn in the one-way road of life.
When my son’s high school friend mentioned the mulberries in their orchard, I went so wild that she had no choice but to invite me over. “But come soon, as they won’t last long.” She did not need to insist because my sister and I were there the next day. As we were leaving, my husband called after us, “Bring me some, too!”
On the way, my mind filled with images of an old aunt’s garden in Saadabad: two servants holding a white bed sheet while a third climbed the tree and shook the branches, creating a white rain of sweet mulberries. The harvest would soon be piled into platters, and Khaleh Khanoom always adorned the top with little pink roses before sending them to the homes of close relatives. This old tradition was not unique to her as the short-lived bounty had to be shared before it spoiled. As for us kids, I remember eating fistfuls until the sweetness burned my throat!
On the way to the orchard, my sister and I talked about the summer trips to Abbasabad and the magnificent garden of our childhood. At the far end of my father’s orchard was an almond grove and we both could still remember the taste of fresh almonds. “There is no Abbasabad,” Ladan said. “That orchard dried up decades ago, and I don’t think there has ever been another garden like it.” We talked the whole way about the bittersweet memories of our youth and soon we had reached our destination.
To my surprise, the Olsson’s orchard is smack in the middle of homes and shops, a beautiful garden with a stunning row of bougainvillea plants in all shades, and overlooking the east San Diego County all the way to distant mountains. True that their red mulberries were different from the fruit I had known, but the garden offered more bounties than we had anticipated: plums, apples, peaches, and more. I was in heaven, and we treasured our guided tour and enjoyed the tastes.
After a while, Kira stopped by a couple of trees and pointed to a branch. “Have you ever tasted fresh almonds?” My sister and I looked at each other, utterly speechless! It was as though she had offered us a page of the rare book presumed burned, a lost treasure, an irretrievable moment of our past. As we peeled away first the soft cover then the hard shell, I didn’t know how to prepare for a taste I had not experienced in fifty years! I closed my eyes and saw the child running around the orchard, a little girl climbing apple trees, a teenager sitting under the almond tree to read a book. For a brief moment, my father’s summer garden remained as majestic as it had been: four plush vineyards, rows of apple trees, cherries, nectarines, and apricots, and an almond grove with a few hazelnut trees. I could hear the breeze through the branches and see the sparrows in a cloudless sky. With each almond, I lived another day in a long gone life.
Nostalgia can be happy. The past may be gone, but it isn’t lost. Should a word, a picture, or taste, bring back the past, one must appreciate the miracle. Thank you, dear Kira for helping me to live a day that I had presumed lost forever.