There is nothing better than a tangerine. When I grew up, down behind the barn, along the fence line of the lot, there were three big tangerine trees. There is no telling how old those trees were. When tangerines were in season, we’d take a break, pick a tangerine off the tree, peel back the rind, and eat each slice. Refreshing.
Racoons like tangerines too. Each year there was a struggle between the racoons and Pop, my step-father, over who got the most tangerines. Pop rarely got mad, but he hated to see tangerines wasted as racoon food. Finally, he’d had enough. “Clay,” he said, “Come on. We’re going to pick the rest of those tangerines before the racoons get them all.”
We propped a ladder against the tree, and I put my foot on the first rung. Pop said, “No. You stay on the ground and catch ‘em. I’ll go up the tree and throw ‘em down.” I protested that I was younger and lighter. He was insistent. So up the ladder he went.
Pop was pretty agile for a sixty-five-year-old man. Before long, he stepped off the ladder and onto the branches of the tree. He had been a baseball player in high school and could pitch tangerines to me on the ground with deadly accuracy. I’m still not sure why he wanted to climb the tree himself. He did believe if you wanted something done right, do it yourself. Or maybe, he just wanted to feel young again and climb a tree.
We had picked a bushel of tangerines, but there were still some high in the tree, where the ladder wouldn’t reach. You’ve heard of a “bridge too far?” There is also such a thing as a “limb too far.” Pop went one limb too far.
I heard a loud crack. Then I saw Pop, all 180 pounds of him, falling toward me. A good son would have caught his father, or at least broken his fall. I was not a good son. I ran.
There was an old metal gate under the tangerine tree. The grass had overgrown it, so it wasn’t easy to see. As Pop plummeted to earth, I waited for him to turn over and land on all fours, like a cat. He was agile, but not that agile. He landed flat on his back, on the metal gate, with the thud of metal resisting bone.
The fall didn’t knock him out. Amazingly, he sprang right up off that metal gate and grabbed his head.
Pop was not the first person I’d seen get hurt on the ranch. Cowboys have colorful, four-letter words to deploy whenever they are run over by a bull, or kicked by horse, or put a nail through their hand. Those words were all appropriate for use when you fall out of a tangerine tree.
Pop was not a cussing man. In fact, I had never heard him cuss. Never. As he sprung up from the ground, I thought the moment would finally come. I would hear him swear. I would hear four-letter words.
Pop said, “Kiss my foot.”
Not exactly the four-letter words I expected.
We all have four-letter words we use for emphasis. I’m sure you have some in your vocabulary. God uses four-letter words for emphasis too. Whenever we fall out of life, God comes to us with four-letter words…Love. Hope. Rest. Heal. Calm. Gift.
God’s four-letter words are the words your soul longs to hear. God’s four-letter words are a lot better than “Kiss my foot.” Or some of the other four-letter words I’ve heard.