It was rainy, cold, and miserable the first time I ate peach cobbler. Perhaps the dreariness of that day contributed to the fantastical taste of the cobbler. I don’t know. What I do know is this: the peach cobbler I ate on that rainy day was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.
I was seven, back then, and very bad at following directions. My parents told me many things in my youth, out of a desire to keep me safe. Always walk straight home, don’t talk to strangers, that sort of thing. I, of course, ignored these commands and stopped by a rickety street vendor on my way home from school.
It was rather strange, the street vendor. I grew up in a small town, one where street vendors were extremely rare. To make matters stranger, this vendor was parked in a back alley on the outskirts of town. Looking back, I probably should have been suspicious of a vendor selling peach cobbler at four o’clock on a rainy day in a back alley. Fortunately, no harm came to me that day.
The vendor was an old metal cart covered by a yellow umbrella. The words PEACH COBBLER – 25¢ PER PIECE were written on the cart in bold letters. An old man wearing a thick coat stood behind the cart reading a newspaper, a large hat covering his face. The most notable thing about the cart was the amazing aroma that wafted through the air around it, smelling of sugar and fruit. I wandered over to the vendor to investigate the wonderful smell. I placed a quarter on the cart and the old man silently cut a piece of peach cobbler and gave it to me. A picked the piece of peach cobbler up with my hands and took a bite.
That peach cobbler was better than anything I had ever eaten and better than anything I have eaten since. The sugary cobbler melted in my mouth like butter as I took my first bite, the sweetness of the dish calming my heart like a lullaby. Every bite of that cobbler was like a dream blended into a smooth milkshake. Before long, the cobbler was gone.
I searched through my pockets, trying to find another quarter. My pockets were empty. Eyeing the tin full of fresh cobbler, my stomach growled. I reached to steal a piece and the old man smacked my hand with his newspaper. “Cobbler’s 25¢,” he said.
“I don’t have any more money,” I said.
“And that means you’re just allowed to steal?”
I didn’t know how to respond to that. The old man sighed. “You get in trouble a lot, don’t you?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said.
“I figured as much. Would you like another piece?”
I nodded my head and he passed a second piece to me. “I can’t really blame you,” he said as I devoured the cobbler. “My cobbler is incredibly good. Old family recipe, made out of special Ithikos Peaches.”
“What’re ethicas peaches?” I said, my mouth full of food.
“Ithikos,” he said. “And chew with your mouth closed. They’re a special breed of peaches from Greece that tasted amazing. They actually grow faster when the person who planted them does good things.”
The man reached inside the cart and grabbed a small seed. He placed it in my hand. “Here,” he said. “Take this seed, plant it in your backyard. Eventually, it will grow into a mighty tree, one which you can pick your own peaches from.”
I thanked the man and ran home. I planted the seed in my backyard. That night, I dreamed of the strange man and his delicious peach cobbler. I returned the alley the next day, but the man wasn’t there. I never saw him again. The seedling planted in my backyard and the memories of the peach cobbler remained as the only remnants of that day in the rain. Looking back, the whole event seems less like something that happened to me and more like a weird dream. Still, the memories of that peach cobbler are burned into my mind.
A few days later, I convinced my grandmother to bake me some peach cobbler. It was good, I suppose, but it was nothing when compared to the amazing peach cobbler I ate that day in the rain. Over the years, I have tried countless cobblers, none of which came even close to being as delicious as the one I got from that street vendor.
A week later, I got into a fight at school. I ended up knocking another kids teeth out and received a black eye and a week of suspension for my trouble. My parents grounded me and I spent a week in my room, staring out my window at my backyard. The seed that I had planted a week before hadn’t sprouted yet.
When I finally returned to school, my parents made me apologize to the kid I got into a fight with. I pretended to be really sorry to get my parents off my back. I got down on my knees and cried, saying that I didn’t mean to hurt the other kid and really just wanted friends. My words were hollow, but I gave a convincing performance. When I returned home that day, I noticed that the seed had finally sprouted.
I remembered the old man’s words, his explanation that the peach seed grew faster when its planter did good things. By getting into a fight, I paused the tree’s growth. But, when I apologized, the tree sprouted.
I decided to dedicate myself to doing good deeds, in hope that the tree would eventually bloom and I could taste that delicious peach cobbler once more. Over the next ten years, I spent hours in the library reading books on ethics. I helped dozens of old ladies cross the street and organized charity fundraisers in my spare time. Basically, I became a perfect child.
My parents were thrilled at my transformation. Gone were the detention slips and calls from teachers, replaced by people around town telling them what a good kid they had. Of course, my motive for becoming a better person was one of selfishness. Still, the peach tree didn’t seem to mind, growing little by little with each good deed.
Five years after the day I first had peach cobbler, another rainy, cold, and miserable day arrived. As I walked home, I decided to stop by the alleyway where I met the old man. That’s where I found the dog.
The dog was a mangy mutt with tangled fur and a missing leg. Her skin clung tightly around its ribs, presumably from years of starvation, and flies buzzed around her like vultures. She didn’t get up when drew close; instead, she just laid there in the rain, waiting for death to come. I picked her up and carried her to the local animal shelter.
There isn’t a sadder place in the world than an animal shelter. Cages filled with lonely animals, wanting nothing more than to be adopted and loved, are a truly sad sight. As the shelter vet looked at the dog I brought in, I realized that the shelter was an untapped goldmine of good deeds.
I ended up getting a job volunteering at the shelter, helping take care of the animals after school. I fed them, washed them, and played with them every day. Most importantly, I searched for new owners for them. And, on the sad days when the shelter needed to put an animal down, I held their paws as they passed. As for the dog I found in the rain, I convinced my parents to let me adopt her. I named her Peaches.
The tree in my back tree grew faster than ever. Yet, the more I spent time at the shelter, the less I cared. I began helping out, not out of a desire to have the tree grow faster, but out of empathy and compassion for the animals. I even started looking at veterinary colleges so I could help animals after I grew up. Then, when I was seventeen, the tree finally bloomed.
It was rainy, cold, and miserable. I had just gotten home from the shelter and was studying in my bedroom. The sound of thunder broke my concentration. I looked out the window. That’s when I saw it.
A tall tree with emerald leaves shook in in the wind. Pink orbs hung from its branches, seemingly glowing in the night air. I rushed outside to pick one of the peaches. The vivid memories of the delicious peach cobbler I ate a decade ago swirled in my mind. I picked a peach right as lightning struck.
The tree exploded in a burst of light and heat, knocking me to the ground. Fortunately, I was unharmed. The tree, on the other hand, was destroyed, reduced to nothing more than a pile of burned ash. All of its fruit was gone. All except one.
I stared at the peach in my hand. By some lucky stroke of fate, it was completely fine. Taking a deep breath, I sunk my teeth into the peach.
It tasted like a normal peach. It wasn’t bad, by any means, but it certainly wasn’t what I had spent ten years dreaming of. I started crying. Everything I’d done in the past ten years was absolutely pointless.
Peaches walked over to me a laid down by my head. She started licking my face. I laughed. “Good girl,” I muttered as I pet her.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t completely pointless.