Beach Badge #3, Nectarine Pits

THINGS THAT CAN POSE as art and garbage, depending on the onlooker, are everywhere. Like nectarine pits. I know some people call them stones. That’s poetic. I grew up calling them pits. The nectarine pit is ripe (ha) with art. Lines, curves, embroidery of its own. Kind of looks like a brain or a map of a place that’s enigmatic and rare. The pit is complex and not pretty. Not like its covering. Think about it – an imperfect swirl burnt in oranges, reds, and yellows. Leading to a hardened brown…brain?

We always had fruit to eat in my house on the Jersey Shore growing up. My mom would buy them at various farmsteads dotting the highways – I wish I remembered the exact names of them. The peaches, plums, and nectarines were always in abundance. They’d stumble out of her paper bags like active members of the summer family in my house on Mulberry Place in Toms River.

The ones with the most lessons were the nectarines. The ones my mom kept highly stocked from May through early September, and I suppose it was sort of good they went away for a bit and out of season. It made their reappearance that much more special. There were August days where I could easily consume two nectarines and two plums in one day. I was a fruit-loving kid who couldn’t wait to stab my teeth into a vitamin-heavy piece of earth. It was like eating the earth itself, I used to pretend. The Garden State’s gifts.

 In the process of slurping up the nectarine it was my goal to remove every strand and thread of fruit flesh from the erotic brown pit to be left with the most perfectly dried and carved remnant of my textural joy. The pit represented genesis, like an artifact from the first of us. And I imagined keeping each one in a jar collection on a windowsill, only to be told to throw it out before we got ants. “We’ll get ants! Ants like sugar!” My mom’s one of many childhood proclamations. So I’d often bury that pit in the yard, praying for some nectarine trees to grow on Mulberry Place.

I dreamed that when I buried it deep in Ortley Beach’s sand under my feet that it lived for decades, and then imagined finding it survived after mounds and pounds of erosion and natural environmental shifts on the shore. Ortley Beach’s sand and my nectarine pits were indiscernible. Like cracked pepper and salt, all blended together furiously.

That cleaned-out nectarine pit left strands of fruit in my teeth for days sometimes. But those perfect cavernous striations. And mazes. What was it? What was the fascination? Was it primal? Was it the layers and twists like a tree trunk, each original, each with a special story. Was it the resemblance to a vagina? I remember sitting on the edge of my bed around the age of nine and bending my head as far as it would go to examine the layers and the skin that made up my pit. Where was this hole, exactly? Why does it all feel so fragile, but like at the same time so malleable and twisty?

Eating a nectarine on Ortley Beach was a prelude to the day ahead, full of oily sunshine dreams and my mom pushing grapes and lots of water in our direction – from the same red jug of icy water that we’d all share. I smelled their cigarette breath on the mouthpiece. But it didn’t bother me. It was family. The nectarines sweetened the smoke.

My mom would choose the most round and plump nectarines from the Jersey Fresh markets, and it occurred to me even that young, that there had to have been some kind of god for fruit like nectarines to grow in the world. Saint Pulp? The first slice or bite is heartbreaking – watching the perfection break apart for my own pleasure. Watching the devastation of the whole for its pieces.

Sometimes when it was not quite ripe enough, I’d break the nectarine in half, rather than bite it. When the nectarine cracks open cleanly, there’s a crunch. Or more like a poof.

There’s this amazing oval truth to the pit. Cavernous truth – I’d suck, eat, and daydream about the dates the golden-skinned girl would go on with her hunky boyfriend. I’d watch them run up and down Ortley’s wet sand on the edge of the ocean. They’d spend all day covered in coconut oil on the beach, go home, shower, then meet up at the Southern House for chicken and ribs with their families. Journey or Foreigner would play on the car radio. That was the Ortley fantasy. Which purse would she pair with her denim and hot pink lips? Would she go with the dangly earrings, or the yellow triangles?

The Ortley couple and the fruit drippings down my throat so sunshiney sweet and full of hope. I’d daydream about being a teenager in a few years.

Maybe the nectarine experience…the digging down to the pit with voracity was the antidote to the secondhand smoke clouding our kitchen on Mulberry Place. Or maybe that fleshy fruit exploration would erase the trauma of the awful nuns yelling at us during CCD Wednesdays? Or the cure for not being brave enough to jump into a back handstand. The physics I couldn’t find within me. Maybe the nectarine feast would answer why John across the street wouldn’t kiss a tomboy like me. Or maybe my tongue hitting the pit in victory would replace the never-won victory of my mom saying yes to me sleeping in the wagon in front of the house under the medium sized oak tree.

Maybe the nectarine bliss was the antithesis of death.

Maybe nectarines are just peaches in drag. Smooth. Magnificent.

Maybe the nectarine pits are mirrors to a perfect world of fruit that grows in the Ortley Beach sun. And ripens for our pleasure, and since humans have a lot of rotten things to endure during our journey as humans, fruits and pits so mystical like the nectarine’s exist for our adoration. Tongue through the grooves at the end while we reflect on the nourishment. We’re so lucky.

If you google Nectarine Lane, you’ll find it in Liverpool, New York – a small village in Onondaga, a suburb of Syracuse. One day, I will drive to Nectarine Lane purely to find out that nothing about that road or street feels very nectariney. PS – It’s surrounded by Blueberry Road and Kumquat Lane. Maybe the Purple Pie Man visits on Halloween. That’s a timely reference and I pray some of you laugh, even a soft chuckle.

Nectarines dot the New Jersey produce sections of farmers markets each summer with the vibrance of a Beach Boys song. Nectarines were one of the many fruits I was obsessed with and truly in awe of from a very young age. Next in line – strawberries, then plums, then probably watermelon. All from our glorious farm stands dotting the Jersey Shore.

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