Ode to the Custard Apple

We moved to the Gardenside area of Lexington when I was ten, just before starting fifth grade. Before my mom found the house on Maywick Drive we’d moved pretty much every summer to a slightly bigger house in a slightly better neighborhood with a slightly better school for my sister and me.

We lived on a large corner lot that was barren of trees, although the neighborhood wasn’t new and there were plenty of large old trees in other yards. Mom and Dad love landscaping, and they made our yard into a beautiful garden, complete with koi ponds, butterfly gardens, bird feeders, squirrel feeders, bat houses, and small paths through the landscaping with hidden benches and hammocks where I would sit for hours and read novels while avoiding my homework. They created a beautiful oasis and we all loved spending time in that yard.

The tree in question did not, however, live in our yard. The elderly couple across the street also had a yard that was devoid of the large old trees that populate the rest of the neighborhood. Their backyard contained a single tree, small in comparison to others on the street, but to me this was the most amazing and magical tree I had ever encountered.

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As the summer began to wind down and we went back to school, the tree began to bear fruit. I looked forward to the days that I would arrive home from school and on the kitchen counter would be my gift from the neighbors – a bounty of pawpaws.

From my first taste of the pawpaw I was in love. I loved the irregularity of their shape and the flaws and bruises on the green skin. I loved the sweet scent of the soft orange fruit that couldn’t be contained by the bad tasting and undeniably ugly outer layer. I loved cutting one open while standing at the counter, spooning the creamy flesh into my mouth, and spitting the large seeds at my sister, who didn’t share my appreciation of the pawpaw.

That pawpaw tree experienced a lot in the 14 years my family lived in the house across the street. It weathered storms and droughts, and even survived the near miss of my mother’s car sliding out of gear and rolling down the driveway, across the street and through the yard, only to be finally stopped from running into the next house by a very sturdy chain link fence. (As an aside, there’s not much funnier than looking out the kitchen window and saying, “Hey, Mom? Isn’t that your car over there in the neighbor’s yard?” and watching her run. Fast.)

I moved out on my own after graduating from Transylvania University, and when only a year or two later my parents moved from Gardenside to Bell Court, I lost my pawpaw connection. Sometimes I find them at a farmer’s market, but I’ve had few pawpaws in the close to 20 years that have passed since my parents moved away from the tree. Sometimes in the fall I dream about pawpaws and am excited that the pawpaw now gets attention from foodies and craft brewers and ice cream makers alike.

Before long, I hope that the pawpaw can again be a regular part of my autumn experience. In the meantime I keep searching, so if anyone out there has a pawpaw tree with a surplus I’m more than happy to take some off your hands.

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Read other essays in this series:

In the walnut grove

By Sharron Williams Smith


The lone oak

By Rosemary Carlson


That tree and me? We made it!

By Brian Powers


So many trees, so many memories

By Amy F. Polk


The windswept pine

By Susan McKaig


Twelve trees

 By Christine Huskisson


There was this tree

By Tom Martin


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