So What’s Wrong With Life Giving You Lemons?

This article my Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 22, 2020, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Some common aphorisms annoy me, the most bothersome one being, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” My annoyance is mainly due to the fact the axiom implies that lemons are not the best thing to receive in life, because they symbolize sourness or difficulties in life. Having been a lemon-lover as far back as I can remember, I consider lemons a great gift and a symbol for something good.

            In fact, we received a large bag of lemons from our neighbors across the street just a few days ago. These yellow delights were freshly plucked from their tree. And, yes, you can grow lemons in Texas, but perhaps not the same species Columbus brought to the new world for the first time. Lemons grow well in the Valley, in East Bernard, and even in Lee County, where I was reared. Meyer lemons, first introduced to us in 1908, are the easiest to grow, and are even grown in North Texas, not to mention a lot of other places.

            Forced to be frugal, my mother cooked and baked with whatever we or our neighbors had growing in the yard or pasture. I never saw any apple trees in Dime Box, but just about everybody had pear trees, so we enjoyed pear pies instead of apple pies. Dewberries grew wild in the woods, — so dewberry cobbler! Lemon trees were not uncommon, — so lemon pies! No chocolate trees, — so no chocolate pies, lol. The motto in the 1930’s and 1940’s was to “make do or do without!”

            Even in the 1930’s, when we were barely coming out of the Great Depression, and World War II was raging abroad, making things scarce, Mama made the best lemon pies with the most exquisite meringue this side of Heaven. We had lemons. We churned our own butter. Our chickens laid eggs like an assembly line. We were blessed, and I came to love lemon pie more than any other edible entity!

            Which became a cause for alarm. Skinny as a toothpick and suffering from an un-diagnosable medical problem (probably allergy, an unknown condition in those days), I refused to eat anything but lemon pie. Mama took me to the doctor in Caldwell; Dime Box had no medical doctor, just the local Ag teacher who served as a Vet. After she explained to the doctor that I would eat nothing but lemon pie, and, also told him every embarrassing detail about my problem, including my bowel movements, this wonderful doctor from Caldwell declared, “Then feed him lemon pie every meal!”

            His answer angered my mother so much, she left the doctor’s office in a huff, but it caused me to forever love Caldwell and that old doctor. Sadly, after that, she started taking us to the doctor in Giddings. By the time the medical world finally discovered the existence of allergens and could diagnose allergies, I had outgrown some of mine and was treated for the others.

            Like most kids in those days, my brother and I drank a lot of Kool-Aid, because it was cheaper than soda water. My mother, however, would fortify every pitcher of Kool-Aid we drank with fresh lemon juice, thus we were never bereft of Vitamin C, folate, and potassium.

            In our kitchen-counter conference over what we should do with our large bag of lemons, I made my case for lemon pies, and, knowing my predilection for such, my wife agreed and made one for us, and, after it turned out remarkably good, she made another for our Sunday night dinner guests, — the first pie nearly perfect, the second one, a masterpiece! Even my eyes were drooling!

            So, what’s wrong with life giving you lemons? Lemon-lovers like me can’t accept “sourness” and “difficulties” as their symbol. “Sourness” is just a cup of sugar away from sweetness, and I never met a difficult lemon in my life!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher and retired LCMS pastor, and author of Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.

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