Ah… the joys of sitting on a low step, feet spread far apart, leaning forward slight, ravenously peeling the skin off of a mango, then sinking my teeth into its juicy flesh – the yellow nectar of this wonderful fruit spilling around the sides of my mouth and running down my hands, sometimes to my elbow. It’s mango season! Time to eat my belly full of one my favorite fruits. Mangoes for breakfast. Mangoes for snack after lunch. Mangoes for appetizer before dinner. Can anyone ever get enough of mangoes? Growing up we had several mango trees in our yard on St. Thomas. The Julie mango tree was right at my door step. I could never get enough of that one. And as plentiful as that tree was, we always watched the fruit waiting for just the right time to pick them. We hardly allowed the fruit of this particular tree to fall to the ground – they were too precious. Every year during mango season, family from near and far would come for their pick off the tree. Strangers, even, would come to our yard to get their pick when we weren’t there.
On the other hand at my grandparents home in St. Croix there were so many mangoes that I didn’t know what to do. The sheer size of their property allowed them to grow more trees, and their trees seemed to grow much taller and wider than those at our home on St. Thomas, producing so much of the treasured fruit. A tree that produced a purple mango with thick skin was near the entrance of their yard. That tree produced an enormous amount of mangoes! No matter how many people came by for their share, the supply never seemed to dwindle. But those purple mangoes were not my favorite. I liked the small round ones at the tree further up. I also liked the ones from the tree all the way on to the back of the property. But even having so many mangoes at my disposal, I still looked forward to the days when we would drive to other parts of the island picking different types of mangoes that didn’t grown on my grandparents’ property. Not only did we get to eat our heart’s desire of any type of mango we wanted, there were so many that I could be picky. Yep, I only ate the ripe-but-firm ones, the ones that had little or no bruises on the skin. Anything else wasn’t good enough. But I would eat a mango until there was no yellow left. My Grandma Madge would say to me in her heavy Antiguan accent, “yuh gyal, nuh badder eat deh sudden dung to the seed bare so… me hab one pail ah mango here fuh yuh.”
But if you really want to know what mango heaven looks like, you must go to Dominica during the summer. I remember the countryside of LaPlaine, where my mother was born, being loaded with tropical fruits – every tropical fruit you could think of. We would wake up to a bucket of varieties of mangoes freshly picked mostly by our cousin Handel. And the coconuts, another of my favorite fruits, were also picked and lined up waiting for us to choose which ones we wanted to consume first. Handel treated us like royalty! (Sadly we lost Handel on a New Years day many years ago – a casualty of a drunken driver. The family has never gotten justice for his death.)
As a child I never remember anyone having to pay for mangoes. Maybe that was because children don’t have to pay for anything anyway. For the most part mangoes were shared freely. They were in such abundance! What else would people do with all those mangoes? Has anyone noticed that mangoes are not as abundant as they used to be? Not only mangoes. I’m observing a decline in other local fruits. I’m can’t name a single place on St. Thomas where someone can find a cherry (gooseberry) tree. A couple of years ago when I was pregnant and couldn’t wait for my usual supply of mangoes, I decided to buy some mangoes from a fruit stand. I asked the lady where the mangoes were from. I looked at her in disbelief when she told me Puerto Rico. What! It was bad enough that I had to actually BUY mangoes, and the mangoes were not even locally grown! It’s not that I have anything against fruits from Puerto Rico. It just seemed strange to me that before, mangoes were so plentiful that someone could make a good hustle from selling the mangoes that they collected for free out of their or someone else’s yard. Now we had to import them.
For me, because mangoes are seasonal I try to eat as many as I can when locally grown ones are available. Luckily for me, my daughter’s grandmother also shares a love for mangoes and supplies us with bags full at a time. But still, this delectable fruit doesn’t seem to be as plentiful as it once was. So if you happen to catch me eating one, or see me admiring your tree, or see me stop my car to pick up a freshly fallen fruit – bear with me. It’s mango season!