As many South Floridians (and almost no Chicagoans) know, we are in mango season. As a South Floridian, during this time of year you have spent months watching little green orbs sprout from trees all over yards in South Florida. If you are lucky enough to own one, every few days you go outside and see how much they have grown and discuss when the optimal time to pick the first one would be. Pretty soon they are dropping quicker than you can eat them. You start to refrigerate them to make them last longer. You give a precious few to your friends. At some point you realize you are eating the last one, they are gone again for another year.
Before we had our own mango tree, mango season was a nerve wracking month for me. My mother would drive me by trees she had seen in the neighborhood that had ripe mangos. She would stop the car and ask me to get out and pick some mangos while she stayed in the car, motor running, ready for a quick get away.
Often we got away with it, or maybe chased away by the home owner after an embarrassing interchange. I remember one night I climbed into a tree that my mother had staked out and the owner came out to shoo my mother away. She drove off, leaving me unseen in the tree. When she thought the coast was clear, mom returned for me. I was still frozen in the tree but quickly jumped down and hopped in the car. We had quite a giggle in the car ride home that night!
Finally my mother planted her own mango tree to replace the lychee tree that hadn’t fruited for some years. This mango tree was not just any mango tree. She planted a special variety known to Jamaicans as the Bombay Mango. I used to enjoy this variety on my trips to Jamaica with my mother. The Bombay Mango is stringless. It is so smooth that you cut it across the middle and twist it open, then use a spoon to scoop up the sticky, sweet filling like custard. On my trips to Jamaica I would eat so many that I didn’t have room for any other food, except maybe some ackee and saltfish. And patties and coco bread. And rice and peas with jerk chicken and plantains. Okay, I admit it, I was an absolute pig in Jamaica!
But nothing was exciting as the mangoes. I would scoop out the insides, then suck the seed dry, not caring about the sticky juice dripping down my arms. When Mom finally decided to grow these delicate sweets in our own back yard, mango season went from nerve wracking to delectable.
After my mother died, I was cleaning out some of her drawers and I found a list of names and with numbers next to it. The title was, “2019, Mangoes”. The first date was May 27th. My mother died April 21st. At the time all the kids were remote learning due to the pandemic so we were able to stay in Florida until we felt we had done enough with her estate to leave. Adam and I were planning on leaving mid May, but after seeing the list I wanted to stay to pick some mangoes before we drove back.
Perhaps I was channelling my inner mischievous Winnie (my mother’s name), but I shameless told Adam, “I really think it would help my grieving process to stay and pick the mangoes.”
He graciously rearranged everything so we could return in the beginning of June.
That year we brought home two large boxes of mangoes. When they ripened I opened them up and ate them all. Perhaps we picked them too early, but by the time they ripened they didn’t have the super sweetness they usually have when my mother brings them up to me. Or perhaps it was grief making them lose their vibrant flavor.
When she was still alive, every year she would schedule her visits to coincide with the ripening mangoes. When she arrived, we would unpack an entire suitcase of them and start squeezing for ripeness. Then my mother would watch as I sliced the first mango of the year around the middle, twisted it open and scooped out my first taste. She would watch with her eyes wide, a playful smile on her lips, enjoying every moment of my mmming and slurping, the pleasure of watching me eat it was as strong for her as the pleasure I had eating it.
So this year, when mango season came around again I wondered how it would go.
My father offered to help pick them and send them to us. I text some of my mother’s friends who were on the “2019, Mangoes” list. They met one Saturday morning, and I received text all the way around saying how much they liked each other.
Last year my father continued to ship mangoes to me, but many ended up burst and ruined in transit.
This was frustrating for my father but like the good engineer he is, he dutifully noted the problems with the shipments and adjusted. I’m happy to say that this year, with new packing techniques, almost all the mangoes arrived intact.
I’m also pleased to report that the mangoes this year taste as sweet and ripe as I remember them when my mother used to bring them up herself.
By the time the third box came, I felt I had enough to share with others, namely my two Bombay mango lovers, Sam and Ben. This time I am the wide eyed one with a playful smile, watching Ben and Sam mmm and slurp. Mom would be proud.