The little towhead stood at the curb, library book in hand, looking first up one way and then down the other. Seeing no cars, he trotted across the blacktop on the naked soles of his bare feet.
Once safely across the street, the scruffy boy wandered, aimlessly some would have thought, along the row of citrus trees.
It wasn’t aimless. He had a target in mind, one specific tree with the sweetest fruit in the little orchard. Three trees from the end, he stopped and ducked under the low-hanging limbs, heavy with brightly colored oranges.
No low-hanging fruit for him. This kid had a spot in mind—one in which he could spend the next couple of hours in his quiet and private pursuit of two of his favorite activities: Reading and eating oranges.
Of course he knew he shouldn’t eat oranges while reading library books. The day would come when he would face the consequences of that transgression, but it wouldn’t be on this day.
Tucking the book inside his shirt, he shinnied up the bole of the tree until he found the little nest he had arranged the day before. Sitting on one sturdy limb, feet propped against another, and his back resting against the narrowing trunk, he settled in for an afternoon of delicious adventure with Tom Swift and his fantastic inventions.
But first, he reached out for an orange. Hmmm—there weren’t as many within easy reach as there had been yesterday. Oh well. He sighted a couple in front of him, and twisting his neck a little, a bunch more right behind. He snagged the two in front. The others would come later.
Was there ever anything quite so delicious as a sweet, freshly picked orange, eaten while sitting in the tree from which it came?
The two oranges were fantastic. So sweet and such a burst of flavor—he sighed with content and was immediately lost in his book. The second of the two followed the first without him even thinking about it.
Somewhere around chapter three, just as Tom and Bud were headed for the rocket launchpad, the juice-drizzled urchin realized he was empty handed except for the book he held.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one of the yellow-orange orbs hanging above and behind him. Reaching back and plucking it handily, he began to remove the peel.
It felt different. The other fruit had been smooth, with a thin skin. This one was rough and pebbly and had a thick layer of that useless white pith under the orange outer skin.
Well, at least it wasn’t rotten. There weren’t any holes to indicate wasps had bored into it. It came from the tree with the sweetest fruit he could remember finding. He wasn’t going to let a little rough peel detract from his enjoyment.
By this time, Tom and his friends were in Outer Space, orbiting the earth and working on an experiment which, no doubt, would explode and start a chain reaction that only Tom’s newest invention could halt.
The kid with orange peel under his finger nails bit into the orange wedge he had just freed from the strange peel.
Oh! Wow! Sour! Triple Wow!
He couldn’t spit the pulpy mass out of his mouth quickly enough. It was horrendous!
Tom Swift and his precarious mission forgotten, the little sun-bleached blond head swiveled around to view the other fruit behind him.
Every single one of the oranges back there were the same. Sour oranges!
He looked down below to see where that branch grew from. Surely it was a different tree, sprung up beside the good one.
From the same tree those fantastically delicious, sweet fruit had been taken grew the hideous, mouth-puckering sour bits of vegetation. Of course, at his young age, he had no knowledge of tree grafts and how they could grow out so the sweet fruit would be produced on one side of the graft and the sour on the other. He wouldn’t have cared one bit.
All the unhappy kid knew was that he was going to find another spot to finish his book.
He also needed another sweet orange as quickly as possible—to take the horrible taste of that last one from his palate.
The boy is a man now, long past his youth.
He doesn’t climb orange trees anymore.
Still, he does find trees that yield both good and bad fruit. It seems there are more around than ever before.
Sometimes, it’s his own tree. Sweet and sour.
It’s no surprise that we’re talking about different kind of fruit, is it?
I’m not the first one to write about this strange fruit.
Blessings and curses from the same tree. Sweet and bitter water from the same spring of water. (James 3:9-12)
Our world resounds with the words.
Love mixed with hatred. Concern juxtaposed with disdain.
Sacred and profane. From the same source.
It ought not to be.
Did you know that an orange tree which begins to produce sour oranges with the sweet will soon produce nothing but sour oranges? It becomes useless to the farmer.
Useless. Fit only to be uprooted and replaced.
Even Tom Swift didn’t have a cure for that.
Only the Creator can change the heart.
Of the tree.
And the man.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:11-12 ~ NIV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.