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Of loquats and lonely old men

Get Donkey mentions his fondness for loquats, which reminds me of a sad story from my Galveston days.

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a wonderful fruit, very sweet when ripe, small and with some largish seeds inside but well worth the effort. People commonly grow loquat trees as ornamentals in Southeast Texas and may not even know that the fruit is edible, which means that you can walk around grazing on bushels of them at the right time of year (sort of like pecans in Austin). I'm told loquats will grow in Central Texas as well but may need some protection from severe freezes, so you don't see them in Austin as much.

loquat

I'll always associate loquats with a neighbor in Galveston, a weathered old man and gifted gardener from Sicily with whom I had no language in common. I spoke a little Italian but since he spoke only Sicilian dialect that didn't help much. He was always chasing neighborhood kids out of his loquat tree (the kids were forever trying to strip the tree of fruit before it was ripe, breaking branches in the process) with cries of "Getty! Getty!" so that became my private name for him.

Once I sat down next to him on the steps of the Victorian house where we each had apartments and tried to engage him in conversation. I managed to learn that loquat is nespola in Sicilian but before long he surprised me by trying to get me to hold hands or kiss him. I don't make a habit of kissing guys, let alone 80-year-olds with whom I can't communicate, so I had to get up and leave. I tried to remain neighborly but kept my distance from him after that. The fact that he couldn't accept a simple "no, grazie" left me suspecting that there was some dementia at work and not just a cultural barrier.

Sometimes his Galveston relatives would stop by to check on him and we'd chat. Before long I put two and two together and realized that he lived alone rather than with his family because he also made passes at his teenage nieces and nephews. Often in the evening scruffy young men would visit him and I'd hear loud arguments; I don't know what arrangement he had with them, but apparently on more than one occasion he ended up being robbed. Eventually he had a heart attack and his family moved him out, I assume to a nursing home.

So anyway, I can't see or eat a loquat without memories of that old man, his wonderful garden and his disastrous attempts at seeking human contact. One of these years I'll plant a nespola in his memory.

garden 2003.04.23 link

Comments

Loquats... yum! I got into them in Perth, Australia where the fruit is considerably larger than the loquats I've seen around Austin. Nevertheless, every day after lunch I walk by a house with a huge loquat tree whose branches hang over the sidewalk. And each day my anticipation builds as they near ripeness.

You mention you haven't seen many loquat trees in Austin -- there are quite a lot of them in the area around 45th-51st and avenue G.

jeremy [jeremy cxe kraybill punkto net] • 2003.04.23
My next-door neighbor here in Austin has a loquat tree that hangs over into my yard. Yum.

Rachel [rachel cxe waterlilies punkto org] • 2003.04.23
Well, that story just killed any chance of me trying one of these fruits.

kika [kika cxe expositionkink punkto com] • 2003.04.24
Hi!
Thank you for the postcard from Texas! Spring has *finally* come to Minnesota--it's about time! :)
~stephUMN from postcardX (on 1-35)

Stephanie [leva0033 cxe umn punkto edu] • 2003.04.24
Well, you really DO learn something every day, I'd never even heard of a Loquat!

Casey Bex [caseybex cxe soon punkto com] • 2003.04.27
How Proustian! Speak, memory (with your mouth full). We had those in abundance in Claremont, Calif., back when I was an undergrad at Pomona. My girlfriend used to make nice pies out of them, along the lines of a peach pie.Reminds of my secret friendship with the grade-school cootie girl, Maribeth. Her parents had been missionaries in China and she had a lot of herbal lore, we'd wander around eating weird stuff she'd spot: this grass is lemony, this tastes like honey. I'd have died if anyone knew I hung out with her. I bet she grew up into a brainy, blithering beauty. That cooties-girl sometimes does.

blogal villager (colin brayton) [iggy cxe hairyeyeball punkto net] • 2003.04.29
I live in north Florida and have a loquat tree that I grew from seed. It's now about 20 feet high and has delicious fruit every year. Trouble is raccoons strip it bare in two days, often before I can get any.

Norm [ndfay cxe adelphia punkto net] • 2005.01.22
We have lots of loquat trees here in Los Angeles. My kids and I are not ashamed to pull the car over and collect loquats if we pass by a tree.

Joan [heyjoan cxe aol punkto com] • 2005.02.10
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