I remember when I moved to New York in the early nineties and corrected a friend who used the term “guacamole” to refer to an avocado. “That’s an avocado,” I told her, thinking she’d be happy to be, you know… not wrong. “The mashed stuff you eat with chips. That’s guacamole.” “Same thing!” my friend said, annoyed. It was the same tone, and the very two words that people used when I corrected them, telling them I was from San Diego, not Los Angeles. At the time, though I’d grown up two hours to the south, I am not sure I’d ever even been to Los Angeles.
Not having been there, one obvious difference between San Diego and LA, as I saw it, was that in San Diego, we don’t have movie stars. For another, we have the busiest international border in the world, which, being that our dad lived in Tijuana, we crossed an average of once a week. (LA-Tijuana, not same thing.) But most importantly, and back to the way this whole conversation started, in San Diego, we have avocados. San Diego is the biggest avocado growing region in the country. Maybe even the world. I grew up surrounded by streets with names such as Fuerte and Calavo (short for California-Avocado), and thirteen of our very own avocado trees in our very own backyard.
Occasionally, I used to harvest those avocados and sell them from a fold-up card table down the hill, at the same “intersection” where I caught the school bus. I use quotes around intersection to indicate the lack of traffic that passed through that little dirt quadrangle on any given day. And what nice people stopped to buy them, I wish I knew, since 13 was like the minimum number of trees you needed to live on that hill. Avocados, I’m trying to tell you, were just a part of life.
Often after school, my sister, Christy, and I would walk down into the canyon that was our backyard, pick ourselves some avocados–ours were shiny and green–most likely Fuertes, Bacons, or Gwens. (The ones you see in the supermarkets these days are pretty much all Hass, with the occasional “Florida avocado” thrown in (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but there are other great avocados out there, and all you lovers of the heirloom varieties should make it a point to try some someday.) Plucking those “avos” as Christy and I called them, in our cut-off denim shorts and the denim shirts our mother embroidered with flowers and rainbows and astrological symbols when she wasn’t making stained glass windows or macrame plant hangers, is where the farm-to-table fantasy ends and where the suburban 1970s begin. With avocados in hand, we’d walk up the slate stairs that led us back to the house, perched on a cliff, on stilts. Upstairs in the kitchen (yes, the kitchen was upstairs), we’d cut the avocado in half with a knife whose tip was invariably missing due to my mother’s habit of using the closest thing she can find as a screwdriver. And, once the pit was removed, we’d pour, into the holes left by that pit, Wish-Bone Red Wine Italian or, in homage to our Tijuana roots, Golden Caesar Dressing.
When we were feeling particularly patient, we’d toast a piece of Orowheat Honey Wheatberry Bread, which my mom let us eat despite her pre-fad, bread-aversion, because it was brown and contained seeds. We’d slather the toast with Best Foods mayo, smash a half an avocado on each slice of toast, and sprinkle the avo with salt. It’s still, hands-down, one of the best afternoon snacks I know, and the best avocado toast I’ve ever had. The only thing I change when I make this snack today is the salt. I use Maldon. And I no longer eat my slices lying on my belly, on the shag carpet in the sunken living room of our glass house, in front of the Brady Bunch. But let it be known: I would if I could. Ahhh, to be ten again…