Yesterday, at Home Depot, the loudspeaker announced that free citrus trees were available in the Garden Department. “Free?” Did I hear that correctly? That must be why people were abandoning their place in line and hurrying outside. I followed them in haste and got into another line in front of a forest of green.

“Why are you giving away free trees?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a donation from the Million Trees Planted Campaign,” the clerk said, helping me load the Lisbon lemon tree I chose into my car. A good sized one at six feet tall.

I dragged the tree down to the bottom of my yard. I got busy with pick and shovel. A bit too busy I’m afraid, enthusiastically swinging the pick high into the air to better penetrate the packed clay soil. I’d managed to get about two feet deep when I swung too wildly and crashed into the top of the lemon tree. How awful! Two beautiful top branches snapped off the trunk and fell to the ground. My God, I’d maimed my new tree! I felt idiotic and terrible.

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Duly chastised, I proceeded more slowly, which was fortunate indeed because on my very next gentle swing, my pick made a tincking sound as it struck something buried at the bottom of the hole. Glass? Metal? It was hard to tell.

I got on my knees and carefully dug with my hands, uncovering the butt end of a brown glass bottle. Treasure in my yard!

I got a trowel and chipped away at the rock-hard dirt until I could pull the bottle free. It was in perfect condition. I rinsed it off and read the name Manfull’s written in script on the side. I’d never heard of the company, but the shape of the bottle suggested a milk bottle from a bygone time.

How old was it? Where was it from? How did it get here? These and other questions followed me into the house where I Googled the name and quickly learned it was from the Manfull Dairy, established mid-century (last century) in Pacoima at the north end of the San Fernando Valley. This bottle was probably circa 1950s. My early childhood. My imagination began to spin full-speed.

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Perhaps a kid used it for BB gun practice, was a bad shot, missed the bottle and put out the eye of a friend, who was rushed to hospital, and he buried the bottle to hide any evidence.

Perhaps the contractor who built my house, circa 1957, a French carpenter let’s say, was eating a croissant, washing it down with a quart of milk, when his paramour from the house next door, whistled to let him know her husband had left for work and he hurriedly tossed the bottle aside…

Perhaps a man and woman had Manfull’s Dairy deliver chocolate milk for their daughter, who had her own playhouse out back and put flowers in the empty bottle on the window sill that collapsed in a terrible storm, a river forming at the bottom of the yard, burying the bottle in mud. The storm raged for days, wiping out houses and farms, wrecking havoc and destruction…

Perhaps a wounded veteran from WWII was…or perhaps a murderer on the run did…perhaps this, perhaps that…

My brain began to sputter, the fantasies becoming turgid and finally unsupportable even by me.

What is this need I have, I wondered, to imbue the Past with a life bigger than itself? Why do I see Yesterday through rose-colored glasses? I know I’m not alone in this. Somehow, we view the Past not as it was, but as we would like the Present to be.

I went back outside to the hole in the ground and to the crippled lemon tree next to it. I dug a little deeper and planted the tree with great care.

I was tempted to toss some common object into the bottom of the hole, a Naked Juice bottle, let’s say, or my coffee cup, or even my broken cell phone from a few years ago. Any of these items could be discovered some decades hence and engender a story of their own, bringing to life the charm and vibrancy of this time we call today.

Instead, I packed tight the dirt, watered the tree generously, and wished it well in the lemon-rich future of tomorrow.


6 Responses to The Lemon-Rich Tomorrow

  1. Jim says:

    Our house was a 5 minute walk from Manfulls; it was the only milk we drank growing up. The amber color bottles were progressive for their time, and were intended to preserve vitamins and flavor. A foil and paper top told what was inside. To this day I won’t drink milk from boxes or plastic. My Polish grandparents always returned home with Manfulls butermilk after a visit. The dairy was essentially open to the neighborhood. As 4 to 6 year olds we would regularly walk on our own to the milking parlor and watch the cows. Sleding the manure piles out back was considered good fun. Kids would earn pocket change helping the milkmen clean up their delivery vans at the end of the day. The drive through farm store was a small walk in refridgerator with glass front doors. Teenage boys dressed in white shirts an pants took retun bottles from cars, filled orders and stowed the purchase back in the car.. Tipping was not allowed.

    • fz says:

      Thanks, Jim. What a lovely memory and well-told tale of your youth. I do think we’ve lost quite a bit of our “culture” with the disappearance of places like Manfulls.

      Cheers, fz

  2. Jaimie says:

    this post should be printed out and put on every car in paris

  3. Mark says:

    A archielogical dig in back yard. The only milk bottles I have seen were clear. A quick search of interweb yields:

    Manfull Dairy
    The farms and dairy operation were a fixture on Wentworth Avenue in the Arleta and Pacoima area until 1971, when the final 20 acres were rezoned for condominiums.

  4. Chappell says:

    Did you perhaps bring it indoors and Annette put some flowers in it on the windowsill…….great story!!!

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