Today I bought pears here in Wadena to begin my residence as a visiting writer. My host, Kent Sheer, had driven me to the Wadena True Value, where he had tried to entice me to buy “our” (a.k.a., Central Minnesota’s) turkey and wild rice sausage, but I would have none of gizzards and grain. Instead, I headed off for the fruit section. Coming from a tree whose genus is Pyrus communis, a pear or two was what I, a new arrival, had to have. I don’t know the many varieties of this fruit and can only conjure a few names: Anjou, Bartlett, Seckel; that’s pretty much it. The three I bought were a speckled yellow brown, silting into a fading green, a muted blend that I hoped was carrying my pear closer toward ripeness.
I’m not a good judge of a pear’s freshness; they’re hardly as simple as apples, which if they’re firm, you pick one up and bite in. The solidity and shape of pears, though, don’t give
them the lightness and evenly distributed weight of apples. Pears are compact and hard, hard as rocks, actually, dense and grave with specific gravity. I tried to pick up some that
gave a bit of give, but this supposed tenderness was likely my imagination, for when I tentatively bit into one at home, it was…hard as rocks. I let the second selection sleep on its side undisturbed for two more days and then sliced into it the way my father did—part of his politesse with fruit, cutting, not biting. He’d bring me six even sections on a plate when I was a teen in the living room reading. This one was excellent.
My dad loved a bit of fruit, savored the juices, the entire activity of preparing, serving, and eating, offices hinting at the sensuousness behind his solid, upstanding Republican affect,
one fundamentally jolly and good-natured, and which I seem to have largely inherited, along with a jigger’s worth of my mother’s madness. Pears, cherries, red grapes, and peaches, the runny fruits were his favorites; and was it this physicality my mother desired to avoid by going to bed later than he? Perhaps the juniper in gin may be considered fruit, for, as Spenser tells us, “Sweet is the Iunipere.” My mother would stay on in the living room reading, as my father would head upstairs, his hand lightly gracing the polished mahogany
banister. Certainly I possess his taste-in-touch.
When he was in his seventies and living alone in too large a house, I would bring him cherries, Bings, and I would always laugh at his standing joke about Crosby not fitting into the bag. And when we would shop together, he would buy pears, which he could hardly see but knew well by hand through his delicate, tapering papery fingers.
I buy a few pears whenever I’m away somewhere writing, like now, where my studio is in the town’s assisted living center, The Pines, and which is filled with a number of widowers like my dad once was. I have a shyness about buying them and linger before their open baskets, never quite able to remember what I succeeded with last time. Since I like both
the idea of pear-ness and something of the thing itself, too, I just choose a color, usually red or yellow, the color of maple leaves in the fall. I handle each one carefully, though I learn little from doing this. Each day here, I’ll check them with my right hand, which directs my most responsive fingers, and gently test the taut middle, one pear always lost in the trial for ripeness. The second is usually perfection a day or two later, desire finally grafted onto that Ding-an-sich. Its swelling side makes way for my father’s pen knife, his still-sharp blade easing through the slightly grainy flesh, making thin, even slices, leaving a square core behind. I eat those gleaming pieces slowly, wetting my fingers.
At home, my wife, Leslie, who wants to give me all things, will sometimes buy me pears knowing that they mean something–what some people, perhaps the French, like to call the
presence of absence. Knowing the nurturing lore of her grandparents’ Maryland farm, she puts them in a paper bag, sure that this is how they will ripen. And they do.
Reamy Jansen‘s essays and poetry have been in 32 Poems, Gihon River Review, Hamilton Stone Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and Alitmentum, where this piece first appeared.