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Lemon Day

Posted on Thursday, February 1, 2024
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by AMAC, Robert B. Charles
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Lemon Tree

You may think this column, entitled “Lemon Day,” will be glum. Not so. Some days, when you think it is sure to be a real lemon, something odd happens. Others make it happen, and you … just smile.

For decades, I worked in DC, offices near the US Capitol. I found myself asking hard questions, even of myself, some days struggling to maintain my humor and the idealism taught in rural Maine.

The world, well beyond DC, is mixed up. It tries hard to jade us, persuade us, turn us into cynics, make us give up hope, faith, strength, idealism, the ability to see clearly, stay flexible and patient without loss of principle, show respect together with resolve, be neither ideologue nor willow in the wind.

Simply put, some days the world can suck the humor right out of us, and hope is hard work. Some days, you bump into other people who are at that task, and need reminding, some lightness in dark times.

So, in an effort to cheer myself and the office, I one day bought a small lemon tree, and put it by the window, a happy distraction, although lemon trees are not native to either DC or Maine.

Without saying so, the lemon tree was my little way of offering hope, saying think out of the box, stay upbeat, and never know what could happen. We define the world we live in; it does not define us.

The idea was not madness, any more than people bringing plants inside for winter, admiring green and colors generated by a geranium or Christmas cactus in winter.

As weeks went by, my little lemon tree got taller, and generated buds. I made a point of watering it, assuring the soil stayed damp, and temperatures in the office did not get too low.

Others in the relatively open office, with lots of interaction, would comment. “What are you expecting, lemons?” They would playfully rib me, a crazy Maine kid, but I did.

Time passed and the tree seemed to like the digs, but I worried still about it and watered it a lot. Buds appeared. A few fell off, and now and then a leaf drooped, but the tree seemed good, just no lemons.

The time came for a vacation, two weeks, so I asked colleagues to water the tree, and they said they would. On my return, people seemed happy to have me back, which was nice, but I was soon head down.

Just before lunch, my eyes surveyed the surroundings and caught sight of the tree. Whoa, the lemon tree!

Where I had left it with ambivalent, possibly unhappy buds, it was now beaming, filled – I mean filled – with lemons!  I was ecstatic, never happier. I was also proud of the little lemon tree, those big lemons.

Unable to contain myself, I shouted to friends, to come look. The tree no one thought would grow lemons was awash in them, bright yellow.

“Really?” I heard one shout. “Seriously?” asked another, as they turned corners, and wound their way into my office to see the glorious, fruit-filled lemon tree.

“Can you believe it?” I said, proud as any fruit tree owner, feeling rather vindicated as my doubting friends thought the tree was doomed. For several minutes, we all stood there, admiring. Amazing, I thought, how incredible nature is, tree to buds, buds to flower, flowers to fruit, full-sized lemons.

That is when one of my friends, trying not to, folded over, trying not to laugh. Another followed until my friends were all quietly – then not so quietly – chuckling.

One said, “Um, Bobby, go take a closer look.” I did, at once startled, deflated, amused, amazed, and suddenly laughing as hard as I have ever laughed in my professional life.

My good friends had endured my silent hope for lemons until they could not take it any longer. When I was away, the little tree had lost all its buds, overwatered.

Rather than let disaster stand, they took matters into their own hands, made things right, better than right, to fulfill my hopes, and gambled I would understand their intent.

With extraordinary care, they had gone to a grocery store, bought a dozen plump lemons, then inserted an unbent paperclip into each one, carefully hanging it on my little lemon tree, now full of lemons.

We laughed so hard, me more than anyone, our ribs hurt, and then just admired that little lemon factory, there by the window, filled with the local grocer’s best lemons. No tree ever lifted more spirits.

That ruse got trotted out, retold to a dozen clients, who all laughed as hard as we did, that tree lighting endless faces. Lemon day? Well yes, or hardly, or rather best lemon day ever!

Some days, when you think it is sure to be a real lemon, something odd happens. Others make it happen, and you … just smile, unexpected lightness in the dark. For the record, this winter, I got another one – which has yet to bear any fruit but is being watered with great discretion. I have told no one.

Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.

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Rebecca
Rebecca
5 months ago

What a wonderful example of finding light in the darkness. Many thanks.

Stephen Russell
Stephen Russell
5 months ago

Cut lemons in 1/2 & crush for juice into Salads
A-Z
Meier lemons Best bet

SusanW
SusanW
5 months ago

Thank you, Robert, for once again making me smile. During these chaotic and frustrating times your reminder of optimism and hope are very much appreciated, and the smile alerts me to the importance of humor as well. You also highlighted the significance of friends. God has gifted us with people who truly care about our well being and are willing to travel our road just for support, encouragement, and lots of laughter. Friends often guide us out of the darkness and into the light. We should all have a proverbial “lemon tree” on our windowsill to share with our “besties”. Have a fun and happy day.

Sharon
Sharon
5 months ago

What a great story!! People need all the ‘cheerfulness’ possible inside those walls. Good for you bravely bringing in your lemon tree!! And hats off to your colleagues for making it a story you’ll never forget!

Kim
Kim
5 months ago

I thought you were going to say that the caretakers…did not…and had replaced the tree with another tree bearing fruit. But hanging fruits on the tree is funnier.

Be careful not to overwater the plants. If you feel any moisture a couple of inches down into the soil, don’t water. Never let it sit in a saucer of water. In the winter, if the plants are kept where it’s a bit chilly, the leaves might turn a pale color. Minerals–especially iron–can’t be absorbed when the soil is cool or wet, so the leaves might turn pale green. Don’t be tempted to fertilize in winter, but do use a product formulated for Citrus plants in mid-spring. Give them lots of direct sunlight. When that first flower opens, probably in spring/early summer, your friends–if they’re still around–will be drawn to the fantastic fragrance wafting down the hallway. Don’t look too surprised if they start looking for paperclips.

Pat
Pat
5 months ago

We used to live in Maine- Orono.

We brought cotton seeds from N. C. to plant in Rochester, NY where we had moved to follow work- leaving parts of our hearts in Maine.

We nurtured the cotton plant that grew by the window of a Kodak office.

Then in November of that year – we harvested real cotton – not stuck on cotton- real northern cotton.

We are continuing to enjoy and laugh about our N. Y. Cotton crop.

Melinda
Melinda
5 months ago

Great story! The older I get, the fewer “lemon” days I have, maybe because I’m retired and don’t have to deal with a lemon-laden world! But I choose to see the lemonade before the lemons appear.

Glenn Lego
Glenn Lego
5 months ago

In the early 1960s there was a song called “Lemon Tree.”

Kyra Smith
Kyra Smith
5 months ago

I simply could not go away your web site prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard info a person supply on your guests Is going to be back incessantly to investigate crosscheck new posts

K. Martin
K. Martin
5 months ago

Try putting a “grow” light over it — a high-intensity, fluorescent light designed just for your little lemon-tree-type purposes! 🙂

Grace
Grace
5 months ago

Make Lemmon cello for Christmas gifts. A little work but my fiends and relatives always look forward to it.

DonS
DonS
5 months ago

Great story, RBC!
As a teenager, I latched onto “Keep your cotton picking’ fingers off!” Imperial Valley grew tons of cotton back in the day. Fascinated, father humored me and stopped next to a field of cotton. I could not removed one cotton bud! However, I discovered an entire plant could be pulled out!

There after, father referred to me as the only “Cotton Picker in the family!”

I can furnish tons of cotton for a nice cushy place of comfort, but please don’t sour the works with being a “lemon” sour puss! Grin!

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