Shards of glass scattered across the kitchen floor on a dark winter morning. My mother was dressed for work in a handmade skirt and a blouse with a Peter Pan collar. I was five years old, and probably should have been wearing my boots and mittens, ready for daycare, but I wasn’t. Instead, I had been watching her take hold of the orange juice pitcher with both hands, agitating it as if she could work out her frustrations with this mindless chore.
Making orange juice from concentrate was, the way my mother did it, an overwhelmingly complicated task. She never defrosted it first, and had to run the can under hot water until steam rose above the white enamel sink in our rented townhouse. Then she pried off the lid and sometimes let me lick the yellow slush. I remember its heady sweetness tinged with bitterness, a taste so intense I could never decide if I liked it or not.
At this moment in my life, this split-second memory, my mother was just three years removed from her divorce and brief time in Colombia, where citrus trees grow in backyards and juices are squeezed fresh daily. When I take my own daughter to visit my now-elderly father in Colombia, she is reluctant to try them. Guanábana, lulu, maracuyá. These pink and white and yellow juices, with their fresh pulp and earthy sweetness, are far removed from the bottled drinks and imported fruits that my little girl has come to know here in Minnesota.
For my daughter, tasting these juices fresh from farm and tree must be as strange as it was for my mother to empty the contents of a cardboard can into a glass pitcher, watch the impotent cylinder of yellow-orange ice land with a thud. She would measure three cans of water and then begin to attack the frozen lump with a wooden spoon. Some mornings she was patient, would stir slowly, humming, letting the water do the work of melting. Most days she would beat at it, clanging the spoon against the side of the pitcher like an imprecise percussionist.
Thirty years later I walk the aisles of Whole Foods or the local co-op, choose a carton of not-from-concentrate, organically grown orange juice, fortified with calcium. Somewhere in an upper cupboard there is a pitcher I never use, maybe a wedding gift made of shatterproof Williams-Sonoma glass with a BPA-free lid. In the mornings before daycare, I pour a cup of juice for my daughter, who has never seen a woman try to make one thing into a close approximation of another.
“Don’t come in the kitchen,” my mother warned me. Her duty was to keep my stocking feet safe from slivers and to get me out of her way so she could begin filling a dustpan with chunks of glass so wet and clear they could have been icicles. I don’t think she cried, although if she had I wouldn’t have blamed her. A glass of orange juice—that’s all she wanted. But my mother always seemed to make things harder than they needed to be.