Avocados. When I was 7, my family moved to Southern California and took a house where avocados would chase us out of our own backyard.
I dreamed about avocados for years; the sound of the hard, green fruit knocked from its branches and hitting the ground would stir me from sleep. Through the windows, I could watch avocados falling like rain. From late summer until early spring, we had a windfall of green gold at our yellow house in Whittier.
Coming home in the afternoons, I would find my grandmother and grandfather 20 feet up the tree, with a ladder, boxes and a rake they had fashioned into a fruit-picking tool. My father would haul the boxes to our store, where I would see customers bringing them to the counter. I would help ring them up, and I’d stare at that shiny dark-green, nubby-skinned fruit that went either ker-plunk or squish on the ground, depending on the lateness of the season.
One year, the bounty of fruit attracted avocado thieves. We arrived home from church one Sunday to see that our sprawling avocado tree had been picked clean.
We immediately suspected the family of gardeners who trimmed our grass-skirted palm trees out front. They had picked some fruit to take home, and we had seen them watching in amazement as my 75-year-old grandmother harvested away, the white scarf around her head flapping in the wind.
We stared in horror at our tree: stripped bare, nothing on the branches but wispy leaves. They had even taken the small fruit that hadn’t matured yet. After that, I imagined whole families of avocado bandits driving around searching for trees laden with a backyard cash crop.
When avocados reached a ripe, luscious green-black color, my grandmother would slice them for our usual evening meal of rice, vegetables and soup. She would salt and pepper the fresh avocado chunks, and the salt would slowly melt into the yellow flesh like dew. We’d wrap toasted seaweed around the avocado and rice for avocado sushi.
At my friends’ houses, there’d be bowls full of ripe avocados, ready to be mashed into guacamole with salt, onion, cilantro and tomatoes and eaten like a meal with bags of tortilla chips. My mother and I would make taquitos to dunk into the clover-green mash.
But the oddest and most exotic way I’ve seen someone eat an avocado was my girlfriend Holly’s method. I spent weekends with her Vietnamese family when I was in high school, and they ate all manner of strange tropical fruits, like lychees, jackfruit, papaya, finger bananas and those weird, smelly durians. Avocados, she showed me, were to be eaten as a dessert, with the body cut in half and sweetened condensed milk poured into the cavity.
That was too foreign for me to try. Maybe it was an acquired taste, I thought, like the love of fermented Korean pickles I learned when I was growing up.
I still like eating avocados with a little salt. Knife in hand, I slit the black pebbly leather skin, then the fresh, slimy green flesh into the hard seed. It reminds me of the house where I grew up, where avocados ran loose, spilled onto the ground and covered the path out to the garden.