Local Lifestyle

Monday, Oct 22 2012 12:59 PM

HERB BENHAM: Boys denied the fruits of their would-be labor

By The Bakersfield Californian

Last Tuesday, the night of the second presidential debate, somebody knocked on the door.

The doorbell doesn't work. This is downtown. Houses lean, doorbells don't work and no one parks in their garage.

The knock was faint. So faint it was hardly a knock, but more an uncertain appeal. I opened the door to two slight teenage boys, with two more boys backing them up on the sidewalk. All had bikes.

"Can we please pick a pomegranate?" asked the designated speaker, pointing to the pomegranate tree in the corner of our front yard which was loaded with red fruit.

Yes, "loaded with fruit." Last year was a bust. I had pruned the tree too close to bloom, eliminating all the fruit wood and, yes, the fruit too. Fruit needs fruit wood like tires need air.

This year, as if traumatized by the shellacking it had taken the year before, the tree responded vigorously by pushing out new fruit wood and scores of blossoms.

This was the biggest crop of all and I have been eyeing them hungrily, waiting for them to turn from green to tan to red. I haven't been the only one paying attention. A pomegranate tree has a way of galvanizing a neighborhood.

Earlier that afternoon, Larry Reider, the former Kern County superintendent of schools, bon vivant and lover of life, dropped off a brown Trader Joe's grocery bag filled with pomegranates. He had a big crop and he knew I was planning to make pomegranate jelly.

But back to the pomegranate-crazed -- though polite -- boys.

I looked at the tree and then looked at the pomegranates in the bag at my feet.

"Sure, you can have a pomegranate," I said. "I have a bag full of them right here."

With that, I reached into the bag and pulled out four large pomegranates -- one for each boy.

I handed two to the boys on the porch and then walked down to the sidewalk and handed their two friends one each.

"Thank you," they said, looking at the tree.

I turned around and walked back to the house, and they started pedaling their bikes. I shut the door. Something wasn't right; it was pretty right, but not completely right.

It was that last look, that last longing look, the boys had given the tree before they had ridden away on their bikes.

Although appreciative, the boys wanted more than a pomegranate. They wanted to pick a pomegranate from the tree. Look at several, turn them over, weigh them in their hands and then choose one great pomegranate.

Ripe pomegranates are like Christmas ornaments: some are small, some are so heavy that they bow the branch on which they hang and some are almost purplish red.

These are tree pomegranates from a tree that looks like Phyllis Diller's hair, branches spiking every which way. The pomegranates I had handed the boys were grocery bag pomegranates.

I had an ouch moment, which is like an ice cream headache for the soul. I thought about the proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Insert pomegranates for "fish" because picking pomegranates is like fall fishing for many of us in the valley.

Come back. This time, you can fish. The fish are biting, and there is a tree full of whoppers.

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