Pears of My Youth: A Personal Essay

Is it irrational to hold a grudge against a piece of fruit?

At the risk of sounding crazy, I need to get something off my chest: Pears, those bulbous fruits with yellow-green freckled skin, are always letting me down – at least, they have ever since I’ve grown old enough to wax nostalgic about the pears my mother used to pull out from the produce drawer in our overcrowded fridge.

Even the organic pears for which I nearly need a loan to buy taste of cardboard and water from the tap. I could save a lot of money if I just tore to shreds one of the ten Amazon boxes folded neatly in the recycling bin and dipped the cardboard pieces into a glass of water, as if I were eating corn chips and salsa.

I suppose I could blame the organic grocer, or the big-box superstore produce manager; the underpaid worker who plucked it from the tree to fill a quota; the farmer who watered the tree; the pilot who buzzed the orchard with pesticides; the owner of the errant hand that planted the seed that eventually became the cursed tree that bore the fruit.

Is it irrational to hold a grudge against a piece of fruit?

I could also direct my ire at my mother for setting the bar so unreasonably high with those delicious pears she packed in my elementary school bag lunch. I could shake my fist at the heavens and question God in all his wisdom, shouting, “Why, oh why, did you permit the pear exist if it so often falls short of its palatable potential?”

Instead, though, I inevitably find myself begrudging whatever pear whose flesh I’m mashing to bits between my teeth and whose juices I’m soaking into the pores of my tongue. These pear poseurs – one by one – are slowly corrupting my taste buds, which still salivate for the pears of perfection I used to not so much eat as inhale as a child.

Illustration of a pear by Charlie Shifflett

Illustration of a pear by Charlie Shifflett

When I lived in China, I hoped – briefly – that the country’s 5,000-plus years of history might have provided plenty of time for its growers to perfect their pear production.

I finally tracked one down (it was of the Asian variety that crunch like an apple when bitten) at a roadside market showcasing bruised oranges and sour grapes. However, my worst fears were confirmed: The delicious pears of my youth are no more – not even in rising China.

Walking away from the market with my bag of pears, I pressed one against my teeth and immediately wished I had opted instead for the pear-flavored bottles of pop (cavity-inducing sugar and all) cooling in the Pepsi-branded fridge next to the market attendant’s plastic stool.

The delicious pears of my youth are no more – not even in rising China.

Later, after brushing my teeth and downing a bowl of beef noodles, I vowed to never again eat an Asian pear. (As it happens, I came to learn that pears are not a favored fruit in the country in part because the word for pear in Mandarin sounds like the Chinese word for parting or saying goodbye. This makes the pear a particularly ill-advised gift for Chinese New Year – not that I would have wanted to gift such a disappointing fruit to anyone anyway.)

Moving back to the U.S. after six years abroad raised my hopes that perhaps, while I was away, the pears of my youth were once again growing big as bells on trees in California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

But on subsequent trips to grocery stores great and small, I might has well have been looking for the mythical Fountain of Youth. The pears I once drooled over as a child are nowhere to be found.

You might say (cynically), “If this is your greatest letdown in adulthood, you’ve nothing to complain about,” and you might very well be right. (Here, you might include the hashtag #FirstWorldProblems.)

But, let me ask you: Have you ever tasted a perfect pear?

If you had, you would feel as tormented as I do – like Adam cast out of an Eden that haunts him in dreams and rumbles his stomach when he looks over the shoulder of the angel guarding the gate with a fiery sword, keeping him from the most perfect of places, the most delicious of fruits.

Charlie Shifflett is the author of numerous short stories, essays, and poems. His chapbook Accomplices was released in October and is available in paperback or as an ebook.