When I ask my relatives about cutting ‘cots,
slang for picking and preparing apricots
to dry in the sun of California’s Santa Clara Valley,
they disagree on the details—
whose farm they went to first,
how much the patriarchs paid family
per box and tray.
One idea is consistent:
when the fruit is ready,
you must be, too.
Apricot season lasts three weeks, four max.
The fruit comes in droves,
a shower of fuzzy orange flesh.
My father went to the orchard with the men,
picked the fallen fruit off the ground,
then used the three-legged orchard ladder
(sometimes a branch)
to get himself high enough on the tree.
He learned this trick from his father,
who lived on the step labeled
THIS IS NOT A STEP
DO NOT STAND HERE.
The women spent their days by the dryer,
cutting ’cots in two,
removing the pit
(little Teddy would earn one cent
per coffee can full of these)
and arranging the fruit on the tray.
At the end of the day,
these trays would go into the dryer,
be smoked with sulfur to keep flies away
so they could be set to crisp in
This was before Santa Clara Valley
became Silicon Valley,
before developers paved over
five feet of topsoil and grew
Apple (the computer company,
not the fruit).
This is how my aunts and uncles earned money for school clothes: fruit juice staining their hands black,
surprise worms crawling out of center pits.