“If they ask, tell them we don’t have any cherries,” Dad said as we reached a standard California border checkpoint. We were headed towards San Diego from Utah, with Utah license plates branding our car as a suspect for inspection.
“You mean you want us to lie?” Mom said incredulously. Mom was always the one who kept our morals in check. “If you’re going to tell them that, you’re talking, not me.”
We were ushered into a stall by an officer wearing a reflective vest and Mom rolled down her window. A young Latino man with a name badge and a tan uniform greeted us, surveying the contents of our car. When he saw the cat carriers in the middle seat, he eyed them warily. “Uh… You guys bringing any pets across today?”
We paused, confused, then realized how suspicious a large pink cat carrier in the backseat must look to him.
“Oh, no… we’re returning those to a friend.” Great, we were already in trouble with the law and we didn’t even do anything. I shook the cage for good measure and the handles rattled.
Not much more convinced, he proceeded to his next standard question. “Do you have any fruit or plants with you today?”
Good old dad decided to be honest after all. Mom’s peer pressure had gotten to him. He leaned across the seat and answered, “Yes, we have some cherries with us.”
“I’m going to have to take a look at them.” We expected that much, so we opened the cooler and pulled out a grocery bag filled with cherries. They were dripping wet from the ice in the cooler, and they splashed all over Mom’s lap, then onto the officer’s hands. He took them and set them on the table next to him, pawing through them and pulling one of them out. He examined it closely and looked back at Mom.
“I’m sorry, ma’am. You can’t bring these through,” he said. I wasn’t convinced that he really was sorry. However, we paid a dollar for each of the four bags of cherries, and we weren’t about to leave them there, especially after Mom asked what the people were planning to do with the cherries.
“We crush them to look for maggots,” he replied, very of matter-of-fact. “It’s a specific species that is causing problems in the south.”
Immediately, I could tell that everyone in our car thought, Our cherries don’t have maggots! How dare you accuse our cherries of having maggots? Eww, have we been eating maggots? No, our cherries most definitely don’t have maggots.
Spitefully, we asked if we could just pull over and eat them at the checkpoint. He showed us where we could park the van, as long as we brought back all the uneaten fruit and the seeds. We parked and divided up the bags, everyone taking a fistful and passing it along. When we had all eaten until we all were sure we would be sick that night, Mom walked the bag of pits back to the checkpoint’s office and dropped them off.
“Pick on someone your own size,” Mom grumbled as we drove away.
I picked up the cat carrier as we were driving away and the top came off, spilling the contents of it onto the seat. A few crumpled pieces of newspaper tumbled out, followed by a heavy, wet plastic bag. I picked it up and exchanged a look with Hannah. We both smiled. There, in the cat carrier, was half a bag of cherries.
“Here… let me have those. I’m still hungry.” And Dad finished them off.