Cape gooseberries grew in my granddad’s garden and sometimes in our backyard. The deepest childhood pleasure came from scouting out the ripe and ready ones. They were the ones whose balloon-like sheaths had turned from green to straw-color. Peeling away the sheath was like opening presents on your birthday. The translucent, papery lanterns held golden delight – bulbs of sweet squirting juice that exploded in your mouth.
Leaving more than just this childhood pleasure behind, our family moved to Tennessee nine months ago. It was a transplant of brutal uprooting. The decision came less than a month before us boarding a plane with only two suitcases each.
We’re thriving, like pretty much everything you plant in the South! The Southern hospitality and rich family values in our new soil are feeding our souls and spirits daily. Fresh friendships are our summer sun and unexpected kindness from many good heart have fed our roots enough that they have embraced their new bedrock.
In our first summer here, two of the kindest hearts helped me start a vegetable garden in our new backyard. Together, we found an abundance of blackberry bushes lacing the edge of our yard. I was overjoyed, and related my fond memories of picking golden berries as a child. My friends were not familiar with Cape gooseberries and broke the disappointing news that I’d be very unlikely to find them for sale or growing among the blackberries. I brushed off the bad news and started looking forward to the blackberry harvest.
The many blessings here are occasionally overshadowed by the longings for loved ones back home or concerns about matters that need resolving, while we await our permanent residency in the US. On those days, we long for the comfort of the familiar. One such day was the first day back in Tennessee after a quick trip to South Africa for my dad’s birthday and some administrative urgencies. In my absence, my newly planted veggie garden had become overgrown due to much rain and lots of fertilizer. While processing all the sad goodbyes, I weeded and pulled up stubborn grass, but could not be sure what exactly I was pulling up. One plant looked more like a vegetable plant than a weed, and I decided to leave it alone. It had a pretty yellow flower, after all, and could bring me joy until I could ask a local whether it was something to be nurtured or neutralized.
A week later, the flower had turned into something I could identify – a Cape gooseberry!
How to explain this? It shot up in prepared soil, but in a climate it should not prefer. Now, several weeks later, it is yielding fruit at the wrong time of year, and the berries have a deliciously different flavor from the one I recall.
So maybe my family and I are Cape gooseberries after all – planted in a new place by pure miracle, welcomed by a church community who could not have been more eager and prepared to love and embrace us. Fertile soil. We’re inexplicably planted here in a time when immigration from Africa to the USA seems impossible. The wrong season. A hostile political climate. Yet, here we are.
On each of the days when the mailbox, which must someday receive our final immigration papers, is empty yet again, I glance back up the driveway, past our blue spruce tree, into the backyard where the golden berries defy the rules of who belongs where, and I smile. And then I pray a thank you from my childhood heart for those berries, and for the opportunity to be flavorful Ameri-Africans – hopefully a fruitful blessing to our new country.