As we get older, most of us use our parents as an excuse for the bad habits and personality traits we refuse to let go. The people who brought us into this world are the reason we’re scared of heights, can’t deal with loud noises, have trouble staying level-headed over politics or simply can’t find anyone to love. It’s true that values instilled by Mum and Dad can remain lodged in our psyche for decades, but it isn’t all bad.
Take my family. We’re big on fruit. Somewhere along the line, Dad read a parenting book that told him that whatever you serve as dessert becomes the new gold standard, so we never ate sweets unless it was a special occasion. While many of my friends’ families went for Sara Lee after dinner, my brothers and I usually fought over a fruit platter. We came to treat fruit as a reward, which is absurd now I think about it, but has been great for my waistline.
By the time my sister was born and we had four kids in the house, we went through so much of the stuff that Dad started going to Paddy’s Markets in Flemington to buy apples, pears, rockmelon, strawberries, peaches and grapes in bulk. He’d leave when the sun came up and return by 8am, rousing us out of bed with the prospect of kilograms of cherries or a box of blood plums. Each week my Mum would give him a list and he’d always come back with something we definitely didn’t need because he’d made friends with the Lebanese guy hawking lychees or an Italian who sang songs about his tomatoes.
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Along with ridiculously good weather, Australian fruit has ruined my prospects of living anywhere else in the world (except possibly South-East Asia). It is delicious and abundant and years after moving out of home, I still treat a piece of stone fruit like a gift from a higher being.
It’s often been said that Sydney doesn’t have seasons like Europe or America; that we fade in and out of a long, hot summer, with occasional bouts of extreme rain. Fair point, but we know damn well when summer really hits.
It’s when the mangoes arrive.
It’s fascinating how much we revere our mangoes. They are our undisputed kings of fruit, shifting between total absence and embarrassing excess, depending how close we are to December. You can imagine how it went down in my house when Dad brought home a goddamn tray of them.
There are few fruits you can’t eat just by shoving them in your mouth, and the mango takes the cake for difficulty. You anticipate the taste of a mango even when it’s in your hand, but you’re going to need some patience to make buying one worthwhile.
We had a ritual – usually up the coast on holidays – for how a mango would be distributed as a treat. First, the cheeks were sliced off and then Mum would cut the freshly shorn ovals into a lattice of perfect squares that pop out when flipped. Meanwhile, my sister – who sensed a wasted opportunity – would disappear with the pip; a shortcut to goodness and sticky hands. Whatever silly arguments we were having, no matter how bored we were with our fifth game of Monopoly, there was very little that golden orb couldn’t fix.
This month, for the first time in a long time since moving out of home, I went to the supermarket and bought a mango for myself. I left it in the fridge for so long that by the time I cut it open, the flesh was gooey.
It didn’t matter. The flavour was still there, as were three decades of sepia-tinged memories that burst into life with that first bite.
So I’d like to thank my parents, for instilling in me how beautifully simple summer can be.
Summer is sloppy, greedy and sticky. It’s a Pantone colour halfway between burnt orange and banana yellow.