Friday, December 04, 2009

Plastic fruit

Nostalgia is just weird. Things that I used to be barely conscious of, or even make fun of, hold this silly sentimentality for me now. OK, aging is weird too. It's occurred to me that mocking something can, just sometimes, be part of the process of growing to love it.

Every autumn of my childhood, as predictable the new fall TV shows and the speciously cheery back-to-school ads, the plastic fruit would appear on our dining room table for its 6-month rotation as centerpiece. A bowl of seashells -- big beautiful ones that my mother collected over the years-- occupied my mother's table spring through summer,

and still does.

In October we'd come home one day to find that the shells had disappeared into their winter limbo and the fruit had materialized in its place.

The fruit was actually rather pretty stuff from some nice home d├ęcor department. It was also mostly kid-friendly. There were only a few ceramic pieces and they were fortunately not as much fun to play with as the more abundant plastic items ; especially the virtually indestructible grapes, which we'd pull off their little stems and pop back on.

Mom didn't shriek when we played with the shells either. If it sounds like a nice house to grow up in, it was. We, naturally, took all the little touches of class and comfort for granted. They lived in the background, set dressing for the little angsts and dramas of our childhood lives.

The fact that the fruit's appearance coincided with school, getting up early, wearing miserable scratchy clothes all day, cold weather, youknowthedrill, probably contributed to our put-down fruit jokes. The shells appeared around tax time and meant that summer really would come. They lifted my heart and honestly, the appearance of the fruit sank my spirits a little. The first few weeks of school had passed by the time it showed up, but it still meant summer really was over. So my nostalgia for it might be a trifle bizarre.

But I'm now School-Free, and allowed to like autumn again, and when you get down to brass tacks, fake fruit is just .... funny.

We could make fun of our family rituals because they were always there, always reliably in place. I can't recall which book, but in one of them, C. S. Lewis observed that the human soul has a deep-seated need for both variety and predictability. The cycle of the seasons, he said, was designed to provide us with constant change and yet a comforting continuity. When I read that, I had one of those Yes moments. All the family routines, even when they meant something a little sad, nevertheless meant that home, parents, and therefore, life, were running smoothly and could be counted on.

My cousins turned up some fruit just like it as they went through their parents' things, and offered it to me. "Haha!" I laughed. Then realized: "Wait! I'll take it."

What?! Can I possibly be feeling sentimental about ersatz grapes? Yeah. It's just like ours and probably came from the same source. The one ceramic piece -- that little pear -- has the same "Made in Italy" stamp as the apples and eggplant my mother still has.

So now I have my own plastic fruit. As we prepped for Thanksgiving and visits from my brother and his wife and kids, I arranged it in this basket on our -- temporarily -- cleared-off dining table, for nostalgia's sake. It kinda gives me that homey feeling.


ronnie said...

I don't know why plastic fruit comes in for such ridicule. The alternative - apparently - if we are to believe magazine shoots and television shows - is that we should all have $15 worth of lemons quietly decomposing in a glass bowl as a wasteful - er, tasteful, centerpiece.

Long live the fruit which was never designed for consumption by man nor beast, and which will never decay, quietly pleasing the eye with the idea of abundance for months on end.

Mike said...

Glad to hear you say it, ronnie, as it debunks a Mars/Venus thing I had going -- which is that women buy fruit for decor and men buy it to eat. The fresh fruit sits in a bowl rather than the fridge, kind of like those little "guest soaps" in the shapes of roses or seashells that nobody dares to use because they're obviously part of the decor. And, dammit, men aren't buying little soaps shaped like sea shells. I will continue to cling to that assumption.

I wonder if there's a market for plastic soap?

ronnie said...

Plastic guest soap! I like it!

It's not like your guests ever use it, anyway. At worst, they'd roll the plastic soap around in their hands under the faucet and put it back, never wondering why there was no froth.

A Guest Moncton, now - that you could do something with.