Alice and Eve
May 2, 2011
Alice is baffled by the Bible. She can’t get past Genesis.
“If Adam and Eve were the only people and they had two sons, Cain and Abel,” she said to me not long ago, “then who did Cain and Abel marry?”
I suggested that, if she wanted to believe the story as the literal truth, then Cain and Abel must have married their sisters.
This did not sit well. “First of all,” she said, “what sisters? And second, you’re no help with this.”
We discussed things further until, a short time later, we arrived at the place where we started. That is to say, she couldn’t make herself believe any of it and I was no help.
About a week ago, I brought her a mango, which eventually took her back to thoughts about the Garden of Eden.
The mango wasn’t yet ripe and its presence in the life of a daughter of Dakota pioneers who had eaten a bland Scandinavian diet for 95 years took some getting used to.
At first she mistook the mango for a papaya and was almost comfortable with it because, once upon a time, back in the 1990s, my cousin had brought her a papaya. But when she discovered this was a new thing, it awakened the curiosity she couldn’t indulge while she was raising four children and dealing with an overly handsome husband who had a roving eye.
Now she wanted to know:
Where are mango trees located? What color should a mango be when it’s ripe? Does it need to be soft before eating it? Is it sweet? Can you eat the skin? How much can you safely eat at a time without getting a stomach ache? Is it okay to eat it if it’s soft but still has a little green on one side?
The mango sat on her kitchen counter top waiting for the green to go away and the softness to arrive.
Last night she called to tell me she’d been researching the mango on what she calls “my Web,” meaning her Web TV, which is not a computer but a keyboard that connects to a modem and allows a user to read e-mail and search the Internet via Google by using the TV set as the monitor.
Alice had been using Google to find answers to her questions about mangoes. She learned that eating the skin can cause a rash, like poison ivy. As if that’s not bad enough, the pit is considered toxic too.
“Dangerous fruit,” I said.
“Well, I’m certainly not going to eat the skin or the pit,” she insisted, sounding as if I might like to try these things for myself.
“Me neither,” I hastened to say. “If I come over before you’ve finished your mango, don’t offer those parts to me.”
But she’d found something else of interest. According to someone on her Web, it was the mango, not the apple, that Eve plucked from the tree and offered to Adam in the Garden of Eden.
“The apple wasn’t even around back at the Garden of Eden time,” she said. “According to what I read, apple trees didn’t exist until Solomon.”
I reminded her that anybody can write anything they want on the Internet. Every time I tell her this, which is once every few years, it takes her by surprise, even though all storytellers, even ancient ones, have taken the same license since stories came into being.
She doesn’t like to believe the Internet is fallible. She won many arguments with my father by consulting it as if it were the Oracle of Delphi.
To cheer her up, I told her that when I lived in Kuwait many years ago, the Garden of Eden lay not far away, or at least there was a place with a sign that proclaimed it to be the Garden of Eden, located near the point where the Tigris and Euphrates come together. I’d heard there was a fence and a gate, i.e., an “in the Garden” and “out of the Garden” functionality.
She wanted to know if I’d gone there and, if so, why I’d never mentioned it. I explained that I had actually considered it, but it was too dangerous to go by car (highway bandits) and there were no flights into the Garden of Eden.
“Why no flights?”
“It’s just a stop on the road. It’s meant to be a tourist destination, I guess. And it’s not the only place that claims to be where the first family got off to a bad start.”
She was quiet for a while. I thought she was thinking about the beginnings of civilization, families, bad starts, and maybe puzzling again over the problematic story of Genesis, but it turned out she was only mulling over how to improve my story.
“Next time you tell someone about that,” she said, “you should tell them you went to the Garden of Eden and picked a mango. It would be funnier to say that than to say that you didn’t go. Who wants to hear that you didn’t go when it was right there?”
“Well, up the road, yes, but the bandits…”
“Oh, don’t even mention the bandits. Who will know?”
This reminded me of the time when I was seven years old and had received a rejection letter from some company that was giving away registered German Shepherd puppies. All you had to do was color a drawing of the puppies and send it in.
I’d colored the picture carefully, but some other lucky little crayon artist did a better job. With my form rejection letter in hand, I went to visit Alice in the kitchen.
She listened and then she wondered if there might still be a way to win a puppy (even though we already had a dog, a shiny black cocker spaniel who’d been given the unfortunate name of Soot by a previous owner).
She suggested that she make some tea while I write the company a letter about how sad I felt that they wouldn’t let me have one of their German Shepherd puppies. Then we would drip some tea onto my letter, and the people at the company would think the tea drops were actually tear drops.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table holding the rejection letter and looking at my mother and thinking this idea was completely ridiculous and that I would never in a million years do it. But I saw that she thought this little deceit would be fun; also, just the fact that she came up with it made me feel that she was on my side. With a mother like Alice and a perfectly good dog already in the house, who needed a registered German Shepherd puppy anyway?
We don’t get to choose our families of origin. Sometimes we get tossed a wild card and have to make the best of it, maybe even enjoy it. One can hope that, even after their expulsion from the Garden, Adam may have felt this way now and then about Eve.
“Well,” I told Alice, “if anybody ever asks me, I’ll tell them that yes, once upon a long-ago time I lived in Kuwait, and one day I got in my car and drove up the road to the Garden of Eden in search of an apple.”
I told her I would say that the whole apple story turns out to be bogus and that at the dawn of time a serpent was slithering around a mango tree, and that I saw this tree with my own eyes and stole a mango.
And lo, the mango is good, as long as you don’t eat the skin. Or the pit.
Or I might just play them this song:
You can read about the updated story of mangoes in the Garden of Eden here.