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Pawpaw Fruit

Big Bird the Pawpaw Tree

            In May, after reading my pawpaw essay out loud in a zoom, and then posting it on the blog, I continued to check on my pawpaw trees, as usual. I watched my pawpaw grove starting to leaf, the skinny little trees swarmed the area; their trunks ranged from a fingernail wide to the size of a dime, but they were there.

One tiny pawpaw tree starting to leaf

            And then I went over to the big, fourteen-year-old pawpaw tree that looms over the back yard, searching for sun and attention. It kind of reminds me of a Sesame Street creature, like a shaggy green version of Big Bird that prefers to stay in one place. As the big tree was starting to leaf, I noticed that there were some green clumps that weren’t growing into leaves; instead they looked suspiciously like tiny pawpaw fruits. That seemed so unlikely though, since we did nothing special to fertilize the pawpaw flowers this year, like moving the sticky pollen from one flower to another with a Q-tip, now that we only had one mature tree to work with.

Pawpaw fruit?

            But I kept watching, and at one point I counted eight clumps, some with only one green bump, and some with six or seven protrusions. As the pawpaw leaves grew bigger, the little fruit clumps became harder to see, but I could still count maybe five, and then maybe three; and I could still see that one big clump with what looked, now, like four or five green protrusions on it.

Pawpaw fruit or bird foot?

            I checked every few days, but especially after a storm or a visit from the gardeners, and by late June I could only find one fruit, not even a clump, just a single green bump on one of the lower branches of the tree. Mom reassured me that there were probably more on the higher branches, hidden by the now-enormous leaves, but I wasn’t convinced.

            Instead, I checked on my one pawpaw fruit every day – despite the old adage, revised a bit, that a watched pawpaw never grows. I watched it just to make sure it was still there, worried that a heavy rain, or a bird, or a visit from the gardeners would knock it down. And it kept growing – like a long thin balloon gradually filling up with air, growing a belly almost like a fat green banana.

Fat Green Banana Pawpaw

            And then, one day, when I went out to visit my one pawpaw fruit and take a picture to mark its growth – like a proud parent marking a child’s height against the kitchen door – I looked up and saw another pawpaw fruit. It was high up and half hidden by the leaves, but it was much, much bigger than the one on the lower branch, and instead of one pregnant belly it had two bellies, like a big green peanut. Even zooming in as close as my camera could get, every picture of the newly found pawpaw fruit was blurry and unconvincing, and I worried that it was just a trick of the light, but each day I found it again, with wonder.

Big Green Peanut Pawpaw hiding

            I’m sure I give too much metaphorical weight to these pawpaws – and therefore give them too much power to disappoint me – but the hope I feel when I see the new trees sprouting up, or now when I look at these slow growing pawpaw fruit, I think: good things are possible. I think: patience will be rewarded. I think: maybe the good stuff is just around the corner, and if I keep putting one foot in front of the other I will get there.

            The danger of the metaphor is that these two lone pawpaw fruits will die prematurely, or taste disgusting, or some other catastrophe will come along and convince me that my hope was misplaced and I should relax into my natural cynicism and just raise my dose of antidepressants and get on with survival. But the fact that I make these metaphors at all tells me something about my deeply ingrained hope – it’s there, and it will be there. My instincts will always lead me on a search for signs of possibility, for something to hope for. And if I can’t find it in the pawpaws, I’ll find it somewhere else.

After another storm, I went out to check on the pawpaw fruit, and the smaller one, the fat green banana, was gone. It was probably knocked loose by the rain and then carried off by one of the many animals that make our backyard their home (squirrels, birds, raccoons, voles, cats, and of course, Cricket and Ellie). But the big green peanut was still there, and, who knows, maybe there will be more pawpaw fruits hiding in the upper branches. Or maybe not. Either way, I’ll find my hope wherever I can get it.

“We didn’t eat the pawpaw. We prefer chicken.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

61 responses »

  1. Growing things. Nearly every day I go out with my camera and expectations. Hopes! Have faith!

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  2. I really enjoy these stories about the pawpaw trees. Hope is a powerful thing!

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  3. Last spring, as a Covid project, we planted fig, satsuma, and persimmon saplings. We were prepared to wait many years for figs (though now we wonder if the fig “tree” will ever get off the ground), but we got plenty of persimmon and satsuma blossoms and, even after most of the persimmons disappeared, ended up with two persimmons and at least a dozen small satsumas. This year, thanks to the vagaries of the weather (including a lot of wind and rain), we ended up with none of the half-dozen or so persimmons we started out with and exactly zero satsumas as well. Pretty discouraging!

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  4. I don’t think I’ve ever tried pawpaw fruit. Is it good? Do you like it?

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  5. I have a blueberry bush and a mulberry tree. Oh, I love to watch the fruits growing! But each year, one day, they are suddenly pretty much gone.
    Wait, there are happy birds flying around, and one very suspicious chipmunk careening up and down the mulberry .
    My gift to them. All is well. Still, I wish they could just leave me a few fruits….;-)
    -Julie

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  6. What a great story. I love the image of the ‘hiding’ paw-paw fruit. I was trimming my yellowbells tree today and spotted an abandoned hummingbird nest from this Spring. It was lined with Comet and Dexter fur. Happy birds, happy times, my friend.

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  7. That’s a profound observation and belief!

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  8. I’m so glad the pawpaw tree is rewarding you with hope and something to photograph.

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  9. A fine metaphor with touches of humour, e.g. bird foot

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  10. Wondering if the butterflies are doing the work you used to do with the qtips? They sure could reach a lot higher. May the pawpaw force be with you!

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  11. You remind me of my husband and his fig tree. I gave him a garden plaque one day and it says “As the garden grows, so does the gardener”.

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  12. I like that: find your hope wherever you can get it. I’m rooting for your paw paws.

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  13. We all love to plant, nurture and watch things grow. No pawpaws up here, but in summer, my tomatoes are my focus. This year, several plants have died due to the heat spells and I always feel the loss. The rest are growing furiously right now and producing fruit, thanks to the helpful bees. Fingers crossed for a good harvest. Stay well Rachel and blessings on your pawpaw. Allan

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  14. Don’t you just love watching the evolution? From nothing to tiny fruits! Lovely!

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  15. I’m rooting for one pawpaw fruit to find its way to your tastebuds, Rachel, for a completion of this mysterious and glorious circle.

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  16. Well, even if the verdant paw paws don’t make it, you have Cricket and Ellie’s paw paws!

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  17. Wow, you make Pawpaw and papaya so romantic. I would think differently next time when I eat a papaya. LOL.

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  18. Best pawpaw wishes to a fellow gardener!

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  19. Rachel I just read the first chapter of yeshiva girl for Podcast it will be going live on my blog on November 27

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  20. Yes, that is the nature of hope. We find it where we can. ❤

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  21. Good for you! Hope lies within: it’s there for you, waiting to take shape—and always tastes sweet.

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  22. I’m reading your book. You are brilliant Rachel. So much of it resonates with me, especially this line, which I highlighted, “I’d been hoping that one of the benefits of orthodoxy would be no more team sports.”
    Smiling. I so relate.
    I love your honesty and insight, and you write beautifully.
    Don’t worry about the paw-paws. They look very healthy.

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  23. have faith. There are probably more there than you realize.

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  24. Pawpaw is one of my favourite fruit. I hope you enjoy yours.

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  25. bird foot, lol. I find gardening to be therapeutic, even though I didn’t read anything of the like. Glad your native plants are surviving so well, especially since Wiki says it’s a threatened species in New York! Hope you get to try the fruit at some point ^_^

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  26. This brings back the memories from Mogli! The big orangutans aiming with his pawpaw!

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  27. Amen. Never give up hope. God bless you and the fruit of your efforts.

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  28. Every year the fruit will get better and better.

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  29. I am wildly sympathetic. I planted two different persimmon trees close together. Something, squirrels, raccoons, ate all the green fruit off the trees last year. This year, it’s clear that the squatty ones are preferred over the elongated ones, as one tree is completely barren of fruit, while the other has lots of little fruits. The trees are of significant size. I don’t know how to protect them. I have hopes that one day, we might be able to share the fruit, but for now, no. till hopeful that come fall I might get a couple, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  30. I hope the paw paw tree rewards you with much fruit. Glad that the doggies are not into eating fruit chicken is much better for them,

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