Sour pineapples

You’ve heard of sour grapes, I suppose. It’s an expression that grew from Aesop’s fable about a hungry fox who couldn’t quite reach a bunch of grapes, and went away grousing that they were probably sour anyway. Over time, the use of a false pretense to make oneself feel better morphed into an idiom that, in English, suggests the practice of disparaging other people because we’re jealous of them.

An employee might respond to a colleague’s promotion, for example, by grumbling that he or she didn’t deserve the raise, but had probably been sucking up to the boss, or got the position because of his or her gender, ethnicity, or some other factor. It’s a way of putting others down to make ourselves feel or look better.

pineapple-youngMy problem lately hasn’t been sour grapes, but a sour pineapple — literally. Several years back, my friend Ralph, a former student with a  lot more gardening knowledge than I have, told me that he raises pineapples. I had no idea that one could grow a pineapple in North Carolina, or anywhere outside of the tropics or a greenhouse.

He assured me that even I could grow a pineapple, and I took it as a challenge. More than three years ago, I followed his instructions and cut the top from a commercial pineapple from the grocery store, set it into a pot of rich earth, and kept it well watered.

Lo and behold, the thing began to grow, though slowly. When frost came, I moved the plant into the garage, keeping it near a window. As the plant grew bigger over the next two years, I transferred it to a larger pot, and set the pot in an old coaster wagon so I could roll it in or out more easily.

pineappleplantLast fall, well into its third year, a baby pineapple began to emerge from the spiky green leaves, and I began to salivate at the thought of eating it: Ralph had assured me that it would be the sweetest I’d ever tasted — but reminded me that I’d have to be patient, as it would take a while to grow.

I kept the pineapple in the garage through the hard winter, and it didn’t die, but it didn’t appear to thrive, either. By the time it warmed up enough to move it back outside, a small spot had developed near the top. As weeks passed, the spot grew, and even though the pineapple didn’t appear to be fully ripe, I figured it would be better to go ahead and cut it rather than letting the whole thing go bad.

The spot, as it turned out, appeared to have been caused by a worm or burrowing insect that invaded the top portion, but had only gotten so far. The unripe pineapple, sadly, was sweeter than a lemon, but not by much.

pineapple-chunksThat doesn’t mean it went uneaten. The small harvest of pineapple chunks cost me at least $500 in labor and trouble over three and a half years, I figured, and it was going to be eaten. Some made it into a mixed fruit salad, and the rest went into a smoothie with some strawberries and lots of sweetener.

It was a worthy adventure, and my admiration for Ralph’s gardening abilities has grown, but I don’t think I’ll be growing any more pineapples — the end result and the labor involved are not a good match for me.

Speaking of sour grapes and bad matches, perhaps you’ve seen the by-now-old comments by Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, one of seven Republicans running to replace Saxby Chambliss as a U.S. Senator from that state (he and another candidate are virtually tied for second in polls leading up to the May 20 primary). In a meeting with Jackson County Republicans, Kingston said that children who participate in free school lunch programs should be required to mop up the cafeteria or do other chores so they could learn “there’s no free lunch.” Could the stigma attached to being singled out as a poor child possibly be worth the labor gained?

Kingston has defended his comments, saying they were not intended to disparage the poor, but to argue that children should learn to have a good work ethic. Meanwhile, Kingston has consistently joined like-minded colleagues in voting for measures that stack the deck ever higher in favor of the rich, making it harder and harder for the poor to get their heads above the poverty line. While griping about benefits for the poor, he’s been enjoying lots of taxpayer-funded perks and meals.

All of this reminds me of a quote about sour grapes, not from Aesop, but from a couple of prophets who lived at about the same time. Both Jeremiah 31:29 and Ezekiel 18:2 quote the proverb: “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

Some things never change.

Tony Cartledge

About Tony Cartledge

Tony W. Cartledge is contributing editor of Baptists Today, in addition to teaching Old Testament studies and various ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School. He formerly served as editor of the Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and as a pastor for 26 years. Tony is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Southeastern Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a Ph.D. He is the author of several books including the Smyth & Helwys commentary on First and Second Samuel and Telling Stories: Tall Tales and Deep Truths.

3 Comments

  1. ­ Could the stigma attached to being singled out as a poor child possibly be worth the labor gained?

    The stigma was attached when the child went through the chow line and didn’t have to pay. The other kids noticed. To be required to work for the food was an act allowing the student the dignity for not being on the dole but for actually earning his food. There is also the old adage found in II Thessalonians 3:10 – “…we gave you this rule: ʻIf a man will not work, he shall not eatʼ.” Though Paul is out of favor with postmodern theology, he was right. The children should learn that lesson early, especially since the majority of free-lunch students probably come from homes having no father of record and therefore a proper mentor.

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  2. Mr. Clark, mothers can be proper mentors, too. I was raised in a single-parent household after my father died when I was 8, and I will say to you or anyone that my mother was and is a “proper mentor” to me, teaching me, among other things, the carelessness of making grandiose assumptions about others.

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    • I can appreciate your sentiments because my father died when I was seven, my mother was 36 with six children (five in school) and the year was 1937, the height of the Great depression. You seem to think I denigrated mothers, when I did not mention them at all. My mother did a magnificent job during extremely hard times – no social security, medicaid or any other “net” to catch those needing help. Free lunches or food stamps or unemployment compensation would have been laughed to scorn. I got my SS card at age 14 and immediately got a regular job in a shoe repair shop (lovely objects of attention) – some 20-25 hours a week for $6.25 in wages. I intended joining the navy when I graduated high school at 17 (skipped the 11the grade) but Mom said no, that I had to go to college. I made it to the navy but later. I don’t think I made any “grandiose assumptions,” so I have no idea what that means, but if I offended you, sorry. Jim Clark

      Reply

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