By Amanda Hamilton Roos
The mangoes are coming. A few small, wrinkly ones were lined up today at the fruit stand like the old women at the bus stop—bored, tired, waiting for someone to take them home. Which means that the fresh ones aren’t far behind. We waited and waited for mango season last year only to go on our annual trip to the US in the middle. So I’ve been asking my fruit guy for a few weeks now, “Cuando es la temporada de mangos?” He tells me to be patient.
Temporadas are new to me. When I lived in the US, I took it for granted that I could buy any produce that I needed at any given time. If I fancied a strawberry cheesecake, I could make one in November. A peach pie in February? No problem. Sure an orange in July isn’t the same as an orange in December, but it’s passable. But in Mexico I’ve learned the sweet joy of anticipation and the ecstasy of a long awaited bite and the bordering on sick feeling of satiation. Especially with food, absence does make the heart grow fonder. Camotes, zarzamora, aguacates, mangos—I can only enjoy them today and dream about them tomorrow.
The mangoes come quietly, without much fanfare. Like the first stars of twilight. One day you’ll walk through the market and notice, oh here’s a few. And at the next stall, a few more. And then you’ll think maybe there’ll be better ones up ahead but there aren’t and you’ll go home empty-handed—for today.
The next day, there are better ones up ahead and you’ll grab a medio kilo; you don’t want to commit to a bunch just yet. You need to taste them. And they are heavy.
I fell in love with mangoes in Guadalajara. I had had a mango before but knew so little about them before we moved to Mexico that I didn’t know that saying “I had a mango” is like saying “I’ve tasted bread.” Mangoes come in hundreds of varieties and each one has it’s own personality.
It turns out I love ataulfo mangoes. They are small enough to comfortably fit into my hand and have a bit of a hooknose. They are the color of a late afternoon sun and when they are at the peak of ripeness they ooze a little from the stem. They are heavy, full, with skin stretched tight. And inside the flesh is smooth and slippery and sweet. A big parrot mango, so called for its red and green skin, the most common kind around here, can be stringy, watery, and a bit sour, even at its peak ripeness. Not so with ataulfos. They are the perfect blend of texture and taste, sweet without being overly saccharine tasting. All this would make them treasure enough but ataulfos are also rare. They have a temporada within the temporada.
So we overdose on them. We have them at breakfast with corn flakes, mid-morning with yogurt. Then Michelle will make a mango salad with rice and beans and cilantro and vinegar for lunch. They are stir-fried into dinner and for dessert—a marvelously unadorned mango. Any time I think, really that’s enough, I remember they’ll be gone before the rainy season begins and I stuff in one more.
Consequently when the temporada is over, we have made ourselves sick of mango. I think if I ever eat another mango again I’ll throw up. And slowly, slowly the months will pass and I’ll find myself asking my fruit guy again, “Por favor, donde estan los mangos?” It’s a roller coaster of longing and loathing.
Before I moved to Mexico and became a mother, life had been one season for almost as long as I could remember. Ten years is a long time to have a life where everything is blissfully even-keel and nothing seems particularly temporary or permanent. Even moments ripe with meaning didn’t really signal a change for me. I graduated from high school and went straight to college. From college I went straight to work as a teacher so my whole life had always been August to May and stressed Sunday nights. Even marrying Dave, my college sweetheart, didn’t feel as much like a cold winter blossoming into spring as an extension of a summer day that never seems to end. Don’t get me wrong, life was tasty. But without temporadas, even a tasty life can feel watery, stringing and in hindsight, even a bit flavorless.
The thing is, I don’t want to eat mangoes all year round. I relish each bite but even more, I am nourished by yearning. It’s why jam was invented—a desperate attempt to hold on to that fresh summer taste, to spread a little strawberry sunshine into the dreary winter. This unrequited desire makes the first fruits of the season all the more sweet. There is something lost, not only in taste, but also in the experience when our fruit has no season.
Now is my temporada of sunny mornings filled with hanging up diapers to dry. And evenings splashed away in the nightly ritual of bathing. It’s my season of learning to live in a country that’s not mine while raising children that I still can’t believe belong to me. Now, it seems suddenly my life is feast and famine. I have too little of so many things and so much of others that at times I feel I’m suffocating and gasping at the same time. I’m not used to this. I was raised to believe that if you really look hard enough, you can find peaches in January (check the freezer section). But it’s my temporada to learn let go—embrace the yearning and the fumbling of doing something new.
Perhaps Mae and Lalo are my own little ataulfos. I only know I have moments ripe with happiness as Mae and I slip into her imaginary world where she is the mommy to her teddy bear. And when Lalo crawls toward me with a mischievous smile spread from ear to ear, I’m filled with a sweet ache for time to stand still. At other times when I’m nursing Lalo for the seventh time at night at 3:45am or Mae scratches me, I feel like I’ve overdosed on my kids and I can’t wait for this temporada to be over. But then, even on the late nights when I’m so drained I can hardly put one foot in front of the other to walk Lalo (again), when I project myself into the future, I can feel the longing for this temporada passing too quickly.
I know the mangoes will be gone in a few months. So, when they do finally show up I’ll do what I always do: Mae and I will pick out the golden ones with the pillowy yet firm flesh. We’ll take them right home and wash off the sap. The we’ll slice it length-wise, twice, as close to the pit as possible. We’ll score the halves and she’ll have one and I’ll have the other. We’ll invert them and pick the slippery squares right off the skin and pop them into our mouths. Maybe we’ll let Lalo try one this year. We’ll smile a sticky, satisfied smile.
Then we’ll have another and this one we might share with her teddy. But I doubt it.