The stall at the Salamanca Market with a large sprig pulled from a peppercorn tree caught my attention. The farm my dad grew up on had an enormous peppercorn tree and many of my memories that bring on a smile feature that tree as a backdrop… the rusted chains draped over a lofty branch that held the swing… to the home-hewn plank of a weatherworn seat of a swing… Granddad sawing firewood using a circular saw powered by his ancient tractor.
The sight of peppercorn always slows me up, typically to a stop for me to lift a few leaves from the tree and crumple them into my hand. My hands then cup around my nose and the sharp aroma of pepper takes me back 30 years to hiding in the cavernous shell formed by the outstretched branches of the Olive Farm peppercorn tree which bent back to earth under their own weight. That peppercorn tree is a happy place.
On this stall, the peppercorn was a decorative piece for the magnificent slab of prosciutto and home-baked bread. The stall was rustic and the gentleman with the calm face looked like he had been lifted from a tough cottage existence somewhere in the mountains of Italy.
His jam caught my attention. In place of the supermarket-variety jam label that typically features a clichéd photo of fruit jostling for the front spot, was a young Allegra.
The photo of a girl in a white cotton shirt and straw hat bound in by red apples while reaching out an arm to tug at one of the fruit was more in the form of a Monet painting. The jam in the square bottle and the hand-printed name Allegra’s Orchard added further to the rustic theme of the stall.
I read Allegra’s message from the side of the jam bottle:
“I love to go and play in my orchard after school. My fruit and vegies grow so quickly. Sometimes there’s heaps to pick so I help my mum Mack (sic) jams and other things. Then I help my dad sell them at Salamanca (sic) Market if I’m not playing soccer.”
In the photo and hand-crafted writing was a dad honouring his daughter. I saw a public display of a dad’s pride in his daughter.
I don’t think Mr Rustic Stall Holder quite knew what to make of my indirect compliment, “I really admire the label… I have two daughters who aren’t always in my care so the design is quite heartfelt for me.”
He offered a light smile as if he travelled wistfully back to the moment the photo was taken. At that time Allegra had been delighted to pose. The fruit trees of her orchard home were an innocent play space. Allegra had been proud to show her epithet to school friends. Her childhood life was uncomplicated, giving her space between school and meals to meander among the abundant fruit trees.
And, now she is 15.
Apparently dragons live forever, but not so little girls, who before growing up seem to have to transition through a phase that necessitates being cool above everything else. In Allegra’s world, dad’s high praise of featuring her on his range of jams was now akin to being made to wear school uniform on plain clothes day.
Then, tonight, the drink bottle that my daughter pleaded to be replaced because of its vintage image of the Eiffel Tower had become the antithesis of cool as some paint had flaked off around the neck. I am just getting a sample of the early signals of her aversion to that precious childhood place where needing to be fashionable doesn’t exist.
But, just this instant, I can hear my precious daughter talking in her sleep. Her tone is sweet as she murmurs this way and that about something that only matters in her head. Right now, she is so peaceful.
It is 1:00 am — time to straighten the doonas on the girls’ bed, kiss them again and retrieve teddy bears from the floor. And, take a mental snapshot of this moment that could double as a jam jar label for my own line of home produce… which is a far-off dream.
Photo by Gustavo Fring.