Larry Geiger asked if we ever had citrus fights in our neighborhood. Here is a fictional description of one.
Every summer of our childhood, Gordie would roam the neighborhood barefoot. I could never figure it. Oh, around the house, sure. In the yard, okay; we had a deep carpet of cool springy grass. What amazed me was his ability to run around unshod on hot pavement. I mean, this was Colton in the blazing Southern California summer. Oftentimes temperatures got so high the blacktop would soften and bubble. Yeouch! That stuff would stick to your feet like fiery brimstone. It never mattered to Gordie. He would run around blistering himself until his feet turned to shoe leather, a process he called “summer feet.”
He particularly loved running barefoot through the orange grove. The grove, covering an area of approximately four football fields, lay just beyond our back fence. All the houses on our side of the street bordered it. It had been neglected for years. In the spring, the grass would grow tall and thick like a wheat field. By summer, it had become an undulating green sea lapping at the lower branches of the orange trees.
The sweet, itchy grass, the fragrance of overripe oranges, and deep cool shade all combined to make the grove a wondrous, private playground. We’d romp through it all summer, climbing and making secret crawl spaces in the tall grass under the low-hanging boughs. The grove was better than any five city parks.
When it comes to something good to throw, there’s nothing like a moldy, greenish, penicillin-packed citrus fruit. I’ve said playing Army was our favorite pastime. Moldy orange fights were a popular variation, and the long untended grove was chock-full of ammunition.
“Hey!” A wet, sticky sensation impacted the center of my back. A misshapen orange rind dropped to the ground, leaving a sweet, pulpy residue on my shirt, soaking through to my skin. I spun with my own rotten citrus-missile, arm cocked, searching for a target.
Gordie and Leticia ran giggling into the trees. “We got you, Gus!”
“You’re gonna get it, Squirrelly!” I chased after them, dodging in and out among the rows. They kept changing direction, denying me a good shot. In, out, they moved through the tall grass, leaping over dirt rows, slapped by sucker branches. Each time I thought I could let fly, Gordie evaded me again. Then I turned into a lane to see my little brother standing still, waiting for me. He was out of range so I moved in, but slowly, expecting a trick.
“Nyaah, Nyaah!” Gordie put his thumbs in his ears, waggled his fingers, and stuck out his tongue. “Gus can’t throw!”
I didn’t need to take that from the little sap. I closed in with a rush. When I got in range, I stopped, planted my feet, and rocketed that orange like Don Drysdale, of the LA Dodgers, pitching a strike. The sloppy bomb caught Gordie square in the chest.
“Ha, gotcha!” I crowed, dancing in my moment of triumph. Then, from either side, a passle of younger kids from the neighborhood appeared among the trees, pelting me with a barrage of dripping fruit. Their aim wasn’t so hot but sheer volume of missiles made up for it.
Ambush! I’ve been suckered by the little sneak. I put my head down and ran back the way I’d come. Boy, am I ever gonna get him back! I blazed out of their effective range, trailing clouds of orange juice as I ran.
I dashed to the neighborhood in search of reinforcements. I needed help to meet this upstart children’s crusade. As I rounded the end of the line of houses, I spotted Hector, two blocks away on the far side of Meridian. He was tossing a baseball in the air, playing catch with himself.
“Torquato!” I ran, rubber thongs slapping against the sidewalk, waving to get his attention.
Hector slapped his forehead when I stopped, panting before him. “Can’t you stay out of trouble, Gus?” He shook his head, eyeing the condition of my clothes. “What happened this time?”
We swept through the neighborhood, building a coalition force to launch a counterattack. Jerome and Paul joined us and we reentered the orange grove through a hole in Paul’s back fence. Pausing to collect the greenest, mushiest bombs, we made our stealthy way to the battleground, seeking our quarry.
“But Mom, Its only orange juice. You always say it’s good for us!” I waved a hand at my little brother, standing shamefaced, picking bits of orange goo out of his hair. “Besides, it’s not like we never got dirty before or nothing.”