When my parents bought what became our family home over 30 years ago, my Dad planted a pear tree in front of the house. Neither he nor my Mum being great gardeners, many plants have withered in their care since – but not the pear tree, which still grows strong outside their living room.
Every season over the years, the tree bore a great many fruit which for some reason were always juiceless, hard and bitter. Still my Dad cherished it and, out of some sense of pride, or perhaps loyalty towards the tree, we kept tasting the pears every year in the hope that they might finally turn out nice.
Last summer a neighbour came for dinner, and as we were enjoying dessert, the conversation turned towards the mysteriously bitter pears. The neighbour, who happens to be a farmer, had a good laugh and said no wonder the pears never tasted very good: they’re not an edible variety. In the old days, they would have been fed to the pigs, hence their common name of “pig pears”.
My father was a little offended, never having heard such a thing; but the simplest explanation often being the likeliest, we had to admit this sounded about right – for the past 30 years we had been placing impossible hopes on those pears to be something they weren’t.
Last Christmas I was staying with my parents again, and my Dad talked to me at length about his nearing retirement. Many of his friends have retired already, and much as he looks forward to slowing down (“you don’t have the same energy for work at 60 as you had at 30”), he sounded a little apprehensive about the passing of time.
“By the way”, he said as we were driving through the garden, “I almost took down the pear tree.”
“The one with the pig pears?”
“Yes, that. It’s never produced an edible pear, and it doesn’t look great anyway, so I thought we might use the space for something new.”
“So the other day”, he said, “I took a shovel and started digging the roots out. But then I thought about it – what has that tree ever done to me? I watered it for 30 years and now I take it down because it’s not productive enough?”
“It made no sense” he said, “so I planted it back in.”
And so I bet the tree will still be there in a few years time, when my parents sell the house to move to a smaller home for their retirement.