“You have to remember the Chinese name for forsythia.” I told my son, “It is the brightest yellow, the very first you see every spring.”
It was this yellow that started an especially tender season in my childhood: My mom was happier; she took walks instead of being busy at home; she taught me other trees and bushes.
Later, I understood that her happiness did not just come from loving spring, but also from the fact that spring was edible.
In the winter before the colors arrived, we ate frozen cabbages, frozen daikons, and potatoes. We had a monthly ration of one pound of meat per family—0.13 ounces per person per day.
Therefore, it was a permanent part of my childhood spring that my handkerchief had blotches of purple, green, brown, and my nails had the color of what was on the dinner table.
The best time to pick clovers was when the pink petals of wild plum began to cover the grass, when the forsythia had more green than yellow. Eyes on the ground, we searched for clovers with folded leaves. They were just coming through, their stems were white with a slight hint of green. They had tiny baby hair almost invisible to naked eye.
The goji sprouts came later. We left them to grow to the length of my fingers to produce a satisfactory bite. Their leaves were glossy; their stems had a hue of light purple. By the time they turned really purple, they were too bitter to eat.
There was this weed we called Gray, because the back of its leaves were covered with a layer of powdery gray. It grew in abundance along the roadside, under trees and bushes. We only picked it when clovers were gone and goji were too wooden to pinch.
Wild plums were green, because none ripened on its branch. By the time they reached the size of a green pea, we already circled the trees more often to patrol the territory we claimed in our own minds. We picked them when the danger to lose them to other kids became too great.
Every kid in my neighborhood mastered the art for splitting a plum into two halves without bruising its tender green body. We knew how to pick out the pure white ball in the center that never had a chance to grow into a mature stone. We popped the fruit into our mouths, one half at a time, sucked, held, rolled it from side to side, and chewed so reluctantly only when the temptation defeated our willpower.
The sour taste of a baby green plum was impossible, but most heavenly for us during those years, when everything edible was delicious.
“But why do I have to remember in particular the forsythia, Mama?”
“Because it is the first flower Abu taught me.”
Abu is my mother.