The seed of a mango is often the center of a conflict, at least when Indian children are involved. My father, the family bully and later beloved patriarch of the clan, routinely won the battle over who got to suck out the juicy bits of a mango seed, leaving his 6 brothers and sisters crying and cursing. A childhood of poverty forced sharing, or winning, at every meal. When Papa emigrated to the US and his fortunes changed, he went from social Darwinist to generous benefactor. Able to afford cases of mangoes, he offered them to anyone who crossed his threshold. There were the fruits themselves, mango lassi, mango rus, and mango pickle. Summer meant sticky fingers and sweetness.
Chicago in the 1970s was not the international food haven it has now become, so mangoes were not available at the average grocery store. Finding Indian mangoes was impossible because of trade restrictions. Mexico was the exporter of choice. Having a medical clinic in the Mexican barrio, Papa was happy to barter medical attention for mangoes by the case. He would take orders over the weekend from all his friends, and visit the mercado on Monday to fill his trunk. My brother spent his summer unloading 15-20 cases a week from Papa’s car. When friends would come pick up their orders, of course my mother insisted they stop for chai, and eat one or two of our bounty sprinkled with cumin powder and salt before they left.
Papa made sure we could eat our fill at every meal. I’m convinced he believed that part of the ‘giving my children a better life’ move from India included mango prosperity. I grew up without sibling combat over seeds. If my brother and I both wanted to suck the center, we just grabbed one for ourselves. We watched Papa eat all the cut up pieces of mango, only eating the seed at the end. Seeds were never the appetizer, always dessert. We learned the proper technique for getting maximum pulp without it sliding out of our fingers and plopping on the floor. Good times.
I lost my father seven years ago, almost to the day. On Father’s Day this past Sunday, I called my mother. We acknowledged our loss, happy that we have each other. For dessert I chose the ripest, plumpest mango I could find. I devoured the seed, licked every finger, and relished the memories.