Growing up in central California, in the farming community of Hollister, our quaint little town was surrounded by apricot orchards. Walking from home to the local stores, I could see rows of trees filled with small, orange-colored, juicy goodness called apricots.
First, let’s start with the pronunciation. According to the dictionary, in American English, it is called “ah-prih-cot”, with the “a” sound like the word “and”, but in British English, it’s pronounced “a-prih-cot”, as in the word “ace”. So, some say apricot with a short “a” and some with a long “a”. But in my hometown of Hollister, we say it the British way or how Fonzie of Happy Days would say “Aaaaaaaa” as he put up his two thumbs when he walked into a room. I like saying it the way Fonzie said it, as my father taught me that way.
In the early Spring of each year, when I was a child, two trees in our very own backyard would start to produce the small, green, oval-shaped fruit to begin the process of ripening. Eventually, I would notice them turning yellow, where sometimes I’d have no patience, and I would pick them to eat. A sour-tasting apricot is not as delicious as a ripened one. By the end of June, these apricots were sun-kissed with an orangey, reddish color, plump and ready to pick off the tree to consume. We would climb the apricot tree like it was a ladder, reach over, and sit on top of the roof of our “casita”, which means “little house.” The roof of this shed-type building was a sanctuary for some of my eleven brothers and sisters. To have a peaceful spot in the backyard to get away from a sometimes chaotic house filled with people, and eat this magical fruit, was heavenly. We were told many times by my mother, “don’t eat too many or you’ll get a stomachache,” and we did.
When I was fourteen years old, I had my first paying job, cutting fresh apricots for drying, so they can sell the popular “Dried Blenheim Apricots.” In the Summer of ’77, when some kids were swimming in the local high school pool, listening to songs like “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac or “Shake, Shake, Shake” by KC & The Sunshine Band, I was getting up at the crack of dawn, only to throw on my most dingy clothes to get to work. My best friend’s grandmother drove us that summer to an orchard off of Southside Road. We were met by the shed leader, who set up a wooden box filled with apricots, some gushier than others, for us to cut under the shade of a scorching hot day. I believe we earned twenty-five cents a box, only making a couple of dollars a day. I complained once to my mother after coming home from a long four-hour shift. She replied, “I only made five cents a box; that’s why I am so quick in my cutting!” The guilt set in.
Another summer, we cut apricots at a different ranch. This time I got to work alongside my youngest brother. We would laugh and sing most of the time, not being as productive as others. Once the apricots, or “cots” as some like to call them, got cut and the large pit removed, we would lay them on a wooden tray. When you filled your tray, you would yell out “tray,” and two boys working the orchard would come and take it away only to replace it with a fresh, empty tray. And we would cut apricots all over again, box by box. At this shed, they would play music on the speaker, and when the song “Fame” by David Bowie would come on, my brother and I would sing the words “Tray” instead of “Fame” and laugh. Once, the tray boys showed up and got confused because we sang out “Tray” before our trays were filled, and we got a talking to from the shed leader. As soon as she turned her back, we busted out laughing, like in church when you know you aren’t supposed to laugh, but you do.
So here we are in the Summer of 2021, forty-four years later, and I found out that my sister in Southern California and my brother in Northern California have planted their own apricot trees in their very own backyards. Soon they will be able to pick a sweet and tangy, orange-red, small fruit with a big pit, take a bite, and taste the juice of childhood memories.
*Anita Warren, guest blogger
May 31, 2021