“The Orange Lady of Santa Clara Street”

The Orange County Register, Tuesday, September 16, 1986

The Orange Lady of Santa Clara Street, by Molly Courville

Down Santa Clara Street, snuggled between the latest condo project and the cemetery, a speck of a woman holds fast to the last orange grove in the area.  It’s a small place, not more than 20 trees or so, and a few lemons.  Each spring the sign goes up –Chinese Lemons, $1.00/pound– so they’re in there somewhere.

But it’s the oranges that are the history of the county and it’s their blossoms I smell when I walk at night.  Time was when Orange County was mostly all orange groves.  They had to name the county after them, there were so many.  It must have been the most fragrant place to live.

Even I, coming much later, remember everything north of my street, as far as the eye could see, a haze of green and orange.  I felt like I lived in the country even though my home stood within city limits.

The bulldozers came then and almost overnight the orchards where gone — major surgery on the treescape.  Someone threw a fistful of house-seeds on the earth and, one by one, up came some tall sturdy homes.  And more and more, as far as the eye could see, north of my street.

Except for the Orange Lady.  I don’t know what sword she wielded to save her space, but she is indeed an island on an ocean of progress.  She loves the orange groves, I can tell.  I drive by her place each morning on my way to work and always see her somewhere among the trees.

I’d know her anywhere.  Faded blue jeans rolled up calf-length, and ankle socks spilling over the tops of tennis shoes.  A well-worn plaid shirt, a size too large for her shrunken frame.  And a huge straw hat flopped on her head, silver hair spraying out from underneath.

Some days she is busy tending to the health of each piece of fruit, plumping here, patting there.  Some mornings she has on her heavy-duty work gloves and has raked a group of fallen leaves into a pile and set them afire, watching as she leans slightly into the flames.

During the winter, little smudge pots glow as she scurries back and forth, keeping her golden fruit warm and comfortable.  But some early mornings I come upon her just standing, arms straight to her sides, head hung down as though she were so weary.  I never think she’s resting: I think she is wondering if she’ll live to see her orange grove die at the had of a developer, or what will become of it if she goes first.

I think she is sad then, and I am too.  She is very old: it could happen soon and before I, too, move on.

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