What mango means to me

In the first month of our courtship, my now-husband Wes informed me of his intent to move to Kaua‘i. I’d never been, but my mother came yearly with my father and said from the moment the plane landed, she knew she had “arrived.”

The idea of living on a rock in the middle of the ocean held no appeal for me. But Wes and my mom were thick as thieves from the moment they met. In short order, he had recruited both her and my dad in the campaign to get Pam to Kaua‘i. The coup to overthrow my resolve was complete the day we married and my parents made a wedding gift of our honeymoon — to the Garden Island.

The following year my sister and her husband made the crossing and we soon followed. My only criteria for moving to the Hawaiian Islands was that a) the dogs come too and b) we live on O‘ahu while they endure their 30-day quarantine. We rented a room in Kaneohe and would drive to the quarantine station daily to wash, brush, read and keep our Australian Shepherd and black Lab company. We’d pull over just before the quarantine parking lot where a low slung mango tree grew up through cracked asphalt. Beneath its branches rotting fruit, and dangling within arm’s reach the pinkish-yellow fruit. We’d take the newly fallen and pick a few ready candidates, then head into the station. We’d be weighed down with folding chairs, books, a dog brush and bones. Then for a few hours we’d sit with the dogs in their concrete slab kennels with a chorus of barking neighbors.

My husband taught me how to eat mango Brazilian style: Roll the fruit between your palms until the meat is pureed into a slushy pulp, then bite a hole in one end of the mango and suck the liquefied slurry out. We thought we were in heaven.

Early in our relationship my husband had seduced me with mango. Then later, I named my first e-mail account “2mangos.” I chose this address as an affirmation. It referred to a philosophy Wes and I have about prosperity. We were living pretty close to the bone back then and mangos were an expensive luxury. Claiming “2mangos” as an address was my appeal for prosperity. If we could actually afford two mangos we were living high on the hog.

When we arrived to the Hawaiian Islands and were greeted that first day by a lone mango tree laden with ripe fruit, we read it as a sign from the gods — this surely was an omen of all the good things to come.

Three days into our arrival when I woke up with an “ant bite” on my right eyelid, I never suspected my luscious icon of wealth to be the culprit.

Four days later with my eyes swollen shut and skin across my cheeks cracking like an overly roasted tomato and an upper lip that met the blistered tip of my nose, Wes led me into the office of a doctor who announced contritely, “Mango poisoning. It’s not uncommon for haoles.”

It would be three weeks before my face returned to normal. Most of that time Wes would endure accusatory stares in public places as he ushered me and my suspicious face around. Looking at myself in the mirror I bemoaned, “I look like a monster.”

In as self-assuring a tone imaginable he replied: “No, babe. You don’t look like a monster.”

Then pausing to study my face closer, he added, “You look like a turtle.”

Ugh. Welcome to Hawai‘i.

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