Paid in Persimmons

In the seventies and eighties, hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews left the USSR for Israel and the United States. My family, like so many others, emigrated via Austria and Italy, where our paperwork was processed. Vienna was the place we first encountered life abroad—a baptismal Pepsi, automatic sliding doors. Then Rome and the charmed seaside town of Ladispoli. Our subsidy from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society provided enough to rent a small villa with a garden and a ceramic tile floor that cooled sand-scalded feet after a morning on the beach. By mid-October leaves blanketed the ground, and one afternoon my grandmother sent me out to the garden with a rake. I made three neat piles, savoring the roosh-roosh of an implement I had never seen. When I looked up I saw that our landlady, Signora Limona, who lived next door, had lined up three persimmons on a ledge facing the garden, one for each pile. “Grazie, bambino,” she said. “Take.” These, too, I had never seen. My teeth pierced the overripe skin, the slushy core cooling my mouth and tying my tongue. The day my family received the news that we would be leaving soon, we returned from the village square to find Signora Limona outside reading the newspaper, Ladispoli Oggi (Ladispoli Today). I poked a resentful finger at the banner and said, “America—oggi.” She smiled and disappeared into her house. A minute later she emerged, carrying in her hand a parting gift of the clay-colored fruit that would bind me to that autumn forever.

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