In the days when I lived in the tropics, there were fruits so luscious my lips would linger over the pulp long after the nectar had been squeezed out. They had exotic names ripe with poetry: fruta bomba, anon, mango, maranon, guanabana, mamoncillo, guayaba.
Many of these acquired new names and a patina of American citizenship, just as I did, in the years that followed my departure from Cuba. Mango kept its musical name and guava acquired a shorter one, while fruta bomba became the very different "papaya," its handle anywhere outside Cuba. The other fruits were lost in translation.
Of all of the Caribbean fruits I loved as a child, my favorite was the pulpy mamey, or Pouteria sapota to botanists. It was my Twinkie or Oreo during the days when sweets for desserts were saved for very special occasions.
Last year I had to find my way back to the comforting taste of a fruit from my childhood, the beauty of a sunset from the window of an intensive-care room and the poetry of the Gospel of John in the Bible I read to stay sane.
In 2008, my 13-year-old twins and I were in a catastrophic car crash. Two of us walked away from it, and one almost didn't. Our daughter was the bull's-eye for the car that hit us. She was cut out of our sedan and flown to a trauma center in a helicopter. For more than an hour, I didn't know if she was alive.
A surgeon came to tell us that Tally had collapsed lungs, multiple fractures and . . . he stopped there. She was in critical condition because of a traumatic brain injury. For five weeks, she was in intensive care with more tubes in her little body than we could count. As each was taken out and her condition improved, I would celebrate by taking a photo of her. For five weeks after that, our daughter was in rehab to learn to walk, talk and reason again.
In the midst of sleepless nights on a recliner at All Children's Hospital, I prayed and cursed. I cried and raged. I was grateful to God and I also asked why he had allowed my daughter to lie in a coma. I found a group called Mothers Against Brain Injury when they left a bag full of toiletries and brochures in my daughter's hospital room. The group's founder understood my suffering and promised that things didn't have to turn out bleak. Sometimes I believed her. I lived in a dark hell where I punished myself and felt guilty if I left Tally's bedside to eat or sleep.
As tubes were removed and fractures healed over weeks, Tally began to make strides, literally. From her bed, she went to a wheelchair and then began walking. Weeks of silence ended when she mouthed the word "Mom" while looking at me. A torrent of words followed in the months after. Text messages, e-mails, handwritten notes in her usual tiny print appeared. Slowly, she is regaining her sense of self.
In the weeks and months after the accident, I finally let myself laugh again. I gave in to a night's sleep and an afternoon of reading. I sent cards to some of the friends and strangers who prayed for our daughter and to those who delivered foods like the ones I found in our pantry one day.
Two odd items that had been part of a delivery from a Christian group that my daughter had joined at school were on my shelves. They were bags of fruit licuados, or smoothie mixes, from Mexico. Each one contained powders to add to milk for a quick fruit drink. One bag contained papaya, and the other took me back to my childhood: It was mamey. The bag had the same coral color I remembered from the pulp of the many mameys I ate on hot afternoons when I came home from school to a loving home.
A glass of milk, a few spoonfuls of the licuado mix and I had a mamey smoothie in front of me. The first taste brought my late grandparents, my parents as a young couple, my maiden aunts, my sister in preschool and a motley crew of neighbors and relatives to my kitchen in Dunedin. I allowed myself to enjoy the exotic taste of the mamey and to find joy in an unexpected pleasure hidden in my own pantry. There were blessings with each taste as the beauty of family, love and gratitude flooded my senses like the fruity taste of the mamey.
At that moment, I didn't know how long Tally's road to recovery would be, and I still don't, but I was grateful she was still with us. A simple taste of gratitude is sometimes what we need most, and it can come from the humblest of places.
Maggie Hall lives in Dunedin. Her blog is at WriteforGod.StBlogs.com.