Elaine Zawacki, my next door neighbor and babysitter on Wagon Wheel Lane, had a lot of tricks up her sleeve. She had to, when you think about it, since she was charged with trying to keep five wild kids at bay for hours while my parents made their escape (which they did, often. None of this ‘first-time-away-from-baby-in-a-year’ silliness for them). The tricks, it turned out, were great things she knew how to do that I didn’t, and she taught me as though it was all magic: how to hit the tennis ball like a pro against the garage, how to flash a reflection from your watch across the room and make it look like you controlled a poltergeist, how to French braid.
One Saturday morning Elaine put a mug of water in the microwave (I had to push aside my marshmallows for this one) and heated it to boiling. She grabbed a peach from the massive bowl of fruit that was a fixture on our kitchen counter and dropped it gently into the mug. A minute later, she eased the peach out of the mug with a spoon, like she was coloring an egg for Easter. Then she ran it under the water in the sink and slipped the skin off effortlessly. See! she said. Easy.
I was mesmerized, and I still am pretty amazed whenever I peel peaches—which is strictly during this short, local Michigan window late-summer; trial and error has taught me not to eat them in any other season. A minute in boiling water and the fruit’s skin becomes like putty in your hands, needing just the tip of a knife to release it, or nothing but the tips of your fingers. It’s so slinky. And white peaches are so voluptuous underneath it all that you won’t know whether to eat them all now or preserve them so you can have some later, too.