A couple weeks ago on a warm May afternoon we attended a baby shower in the beautiful backyard of a stately old South Pasadena home. On the way in somebody had left a basket of lemons under a sign that read “Free Lemons. Take One.” I took one thinking it was part of a baby shower game—count up the seeds, squeeze the most juice. Baby showers always have those awkward fertility ritual games.

Well pretty soon I found out the lemons were just lemons. One of the guests had had a surfeit of them, and brought them along to share. There were several lonely lemons left around on tables or rolled to the edge of the lawn where the landscaping was rougher under one of the neighborhood’s grand old trees. Maybe other guests had given up on them. I still kept mine close.

Eventually my nephew arrived, sauntering down the driveway, tossing a lemon up out of his palm and snatching it out of the air at the top of its arc.

“Ahh, hey man,” I said, “smart thinking grabbing a lemon. There’s a contest to see who follows directions, and who can keep theirs nearby for the longest.”

“A contest? I just thought it was a basket of lemons.”

“I guess? Baby shower thing? Just hold on to it.”

“Haha whatever.”

My nephew and I kept ahold of our lemons all afternoon, all through the cake and the gifts and the games.

“Hey Uncle what’s up with the lemons?” The heat had left the air by then, but it wasn’t yet cool. “Nobody else is holding them?”

“Just be patient.”

That only lasted another half-hour and he finally asked his cousin, my niece, the expecting mother, about the lemons and she said, “The lemons? Oh those are from my aunt—my in-law aunt—take as many as you want.”

Then my nephew and I had a laugh together and soon we left, strolling back up the driveway under the evening shade, lemons in our palms. We’d turned it into a contest. He clung to his lemon for a few more days before he let it go. I held mine for much longer. The impatience of youth.

Over the next couple of weeks I shared with him some snapshots of my lemon in action, enduring: hunched in the fresh fruit bowl, alone on the counter, in my palm with a hockey game on the TV in the background.

Eventually though, all things meet their ends, even free lemons. Yesterday we ran short of cooking lemons for seitan piccata, and my saving lemon had reached the point where purpose and need collide. I shared a last snapshot of it with my nephew. He sent a meme in reply.