On being … an aide–mémoire of sorts

By Ingrid Sapona

I love clementines – those tiny citrus gems that are widely available here in Canada from about November to March. We didn’t have these when I was growing up. We had tangerines, but not clementines.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw them. It was the mid-1980s and I was living in Amsterdam. Though the sign on the basket said clementines, I figured that was Dutch for tangerine (or maybe for “mini tangerine”).

I bought some on the spot because they made me homesick for my mother, who loves tangerines. I’ll never forget a story she told me about my father giving her tangerines as a gift when they were dating. (I know, in this day and age it might seem an odd gift – but after the war, a gift of fruit – especially something so exotic – must have been like gold.)

Though I soon realized clementines are not tangerines, I fell in love with them. A few years later I was thrilled when we first got them in Toronto. That year, since they weren't yet available in Buffalo, I surprised Mom with a box of them for Christmas. As soon as she unwrapped the box she started to tell me the story about the tangerines from Dad. She was surprised when I told her that I had remembered the story and that that’s why I thought she’d like the gift of clementines.

As with any food that I really love, I’ve become somewhat of a connoisseur when it comes to clementines. For example, I much prefer the ones from Morocco over the ones from Spain. I find the Moroccan ones generally sweeter, much easier to peel, and nearly always seedless – all things that I prize in clementines.

The other day a friend noticed on my kitchen counter a small dish filled with seeds. She asked what they were. Hoping to deflect further discussion, I nonchalantly said they were clementine seeds. From the look on her face, I could tell that my response wasn’t quite enough. So, I further explained that, in fact, there were 27 seeds and that they all came from one clementine.

Clearly unimpressed with this additional information, she asked me why I’m saving them. Realizing that no answer would sound sane, I told her I had kept them as an aide-mémoire for an On being…. She laughed and shook her head, knowing there was no point in asking more – she’d just have to wait for the column.  

So, about those clementine seeds on my counter. It’s true, they all came from one clementine – a fact I can honestly say amazes me now when I look at them in the little bowl. But, as I was eating that clementine one December evening, the seeds irritated the hell out of me.

As I spit out the initial seed or two that evening, I rationally remembered that I’d long-ago noticed that sometimes the first clementines of the season are harder to peel and they often have a seed or two. (Indeed, I’ve always figured this has something to do with them being picked younger.) After soothing myself that such was to be expected so early in the season, I popped the next section in my mouth. With that very next bite I was rudely surprised by two, if not three, more seeds. Turns out every damned section of that clementine was like that!

With each seed I spit out, my annoyance grew. By the end of the clementine my irritation had eclipsed my enjoyment of the clementine. Worried that the whole damned crate was going to be like that, I immediately peeled a couple more. To my great relief, the others were seed-free bits of perfection that I had expected.

When I went to toss the seeds I had spit out, I still couldn’t believe how many there were. So, I started counting them. As I did, I started thinking about what those seeds were. That’s when I realized that besides being a source of irritation, they also represented the promise of future clementines. Once I saw them like that, I felt ashamed at my irritation. So, I kept those 27 seeds to remind me of a New Year’s resolution I’d be making for 2013.

The resolution those seeds stand as a reminder of is that whenever I find myself annoyed by something, I should pause and take a second look at the source of the irritation. Maybe there’s an underlying good – or usefulness – that, in the scheme of things, trumps my annoyance.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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