Chameleon - UBC's Journal of Children's Literature
v 1 n 1
Spring 2003

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by Harmony Ho

Lemons           My mother loves lemons, and so do I. Every Thursday afternoon, we went to Ernie's convenience store, after Mom got home from work, to pick up a bag of lemons and a bag of limes. As much as Mom loved the car, we never drove there. Ernie's was a ten-minute walk from our house, across the street from Mooch's Blue Buggy. Whenever we went on our lemon expeditions Mom put on Dad's overcoat with the bajillion pockets. Dad doesn't let anyone else touch the coat, but he wasn't home till dinnertime on Thursdays and I don't think he ever found out that Mom borrowed his coat every week. I have a secret hankering for the coat myself, but since I'm still a ways from being tall enough to pull it off, I satisfy myself by thinking I'll wear it once a week, the way Mom does, maybe when I'm Francine's age.

          On our way to Ernie's, Mom and I always amused ourselves by looking for new pockets and digging around to see what exactly it was that Dad hid in there. Last time we counted we got to ninety-seven pockets. It's rare when we discover a new one, but it does happen every so often, because pockets are hidden everywhere. I think Dad got the coat at a garage sale. I'll be the first to admit that it's the best thing Dad has ever gotten at a garage sale, because Dad simply loves garage sales and jumps at the chance to go to any of them. Sometimes, he scoured the newspaper looking for ads. As if we wouldn't have known if any of the neighbours was having a sale. There would have been signs all over Ernie's. (There would have been signs all over Mooch's too, but Mooch didn't let anybody put signs on his windows, ever. Only his own signs ever went up.) Dad always comes back home with boxfuls of stuff, mostly things like can openers that don't work, old vases or picture frames that end up sitting in the box for months, then in the attic, then in our very own garage sale. Anyway, Dad's newspaper reading did pay off, because one time someone from Four Corners was having a giant garage sale and Dad went, of course, and got the coat there. It's beige-y in colour. Kind of ordinary-looking on the outside, with your regular pockets in the bottom front for gloves and things like that, and your ordinary pockets at the top front. The coat is multi-layered. So of course, there are pockets everywhere. Pockets on top of layers, in between layers, underneath layers, pockets with zippers, without zippers, hidden pockets, non-hidden pockets, big pockets, little pockets, pockets that are almost invisible, pockets with lining, pockets without lining, and even pockets in pockets in pockets. Of course, this coat is a hundred times better than any of Dad's old Hawaiian shirts, any day.

          Dad keeps a million odd things in these pockets. Or maybe they aren't Dad's things at all, but the person's who owned the coat before. I've found tic-tacs, balloons, packs of sugar, heart-shaped stickers, bouncing balls, goldfish food, a pacifier, a whistle, a pair of cracked sunglasses that turn everything yellow when you put them on, and a harmonica that Mom I eventually learned how to play, be it ever so badly. I can play "Yellow Submarine" on it and Mom can play almost any Christmas carol you can name.

          Anyway, Mom and I walked to Ernie's every Thursday to buy lemons and limes. We were very picky about it. They couldn't just be any lemons or limes. No, they had to be perfect. More often than not, Ernie would get annoyed with us because we would spend so long at the store, going through all the fruit, squeezing each lemon and lime. Mom would hold each one up to her nose and sniff it rapturously, saying, "Nope, not good enough," or "Yes! This would be perfect for pie!" She told me that you can always tell which ones are the juiciest and the best-tasting by smelling them.

          Ernie always complained that we took too long and that we were holding up the fruit aisle, but every time I'd gone there, there was never more than one or two people in the entire store. I think that secretly Ernie liked having us there every Thursday. Otherwise, nobody would buy his lemons and limes and they'd just sit there and go rotten.

          Our record time in Ernie's was an hour and ten minutes. That day, Mom was really being picky and even I was starting to lose patience. It was the day of the neighbourhood potluck. Neighbourhood meaning everybody in Sundance. That meant Mom would have to take extra care picking the lemons and limes, because they'd have to satisfy both me and her, and also everybody else. She was planning to make limon meringue pie. Twelve of them. Limon because everything we made was either lemon-flavoured, lime-flavoured, or a mixture of the two. Even Ernie was in a good mood that day. He was planning to bring a fruit basket to the potluck-"minus the lemons and limes, of course," he said. But all that time was well worth it, because Mom and I lugged home three bags each, and spent hours preparing the pies. And they were so good that Francine and Dad tried some, and I even noticed Dad sneaking seconds. Most of the time, we were out of Ernie's in half an hour or less, though. I always had to drag Mom away before she went too crazy, wandering into the other aisles, looking for lemonade, limonade, lime juice, lemon cake mix, lime-flavoured lollipops and the like.

          We always stopped at the park on the way home (the same park that I always went to with Nella). It had the original and very creative name of Sundance Park. Nella and I tried to come up with a better name for it, but we had so many disagreements that we sort of gave up on it. Nella wanted to call it The Secret Garden, because she liked the book so much. I thought it was a dumb name, but I didn't want to tell her. It wasn't even like a garden so much, because there were hardly any flowers or fruits or vegetables. Just trees and more trees. I wanted to call it The Green Submarine, but Nella didn't like that.

          So Mom and I always stopped off at what I am now going to refer to as The Green Submarine. There was one big log there from a tree that had fallen over that nobody ever bothered to take away. It had been there for as long as I could remember. It had lost the uneven ragged surface of the rest of the trees, having been worn a little smoother by the summer night storms and year of people sitting there, picnicking there, dreaming there. Mom and I always sat on that log and she'd take out her trusty Swiss Army knife and cut open one lime, one lemon. Then we'd take a half of each and suck on them. I love the sour, tangy taste, but I can't help but squeeze my eyes shut every time I eat them just like that, by themselves. Mom is quite the expert though, because she sucks on them as if they are lollipops or candied apples.

          So that's how I got my middle name. Lemon. Because Mom loves lemons so much. Because she's passed that on to me.
Illustration by Andrea Zimmer    

Chameleon: UBC's Journal of Children's Literature

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