Staying with Apples
An orchard in Hope has marked the seasons of my life.
The Apple Barn, a low, red, wooden building, sat across the road from its white Victorian house. Every fall my parents packed me and my brothers into the back of the Pontiac and drove the six miles inland to the orchard. The drive was long then: out of our neighborhood, through Millville, and past the tannery, over the causeway between the bog and lake (where we’d stop to spot ducks), then out the winding road where the trees’ scarlet and yellow canopies met over head, filtering sunlight. Miles of ferns turned the ditches gold. And finally we reached the long curve up and down hill to the orchards where a world of trees was hung with apples. [For the rest of this story, see the October 2008 issue of Down East.]
Towers of crated apples filled the barnyard. Cars parked every which way. We sprang out, wound up from the drive, as soon as Dad’s voice and the doors released us. While he talked intently with the owner (they both knew their apples) and Mom chatted with everyone (it didn’t matter whether she knew them or not), my brothers and I scoured the grounds, sniffing and touching the fruit and hiding behind crates. I loved watching the belt with wheels that moved boxes inside and out like miniature boxcars. Its oily smell mixed with the apples’ sweetness in a strange perfume, and I imagined folding myself into a wooden crate and riding miles into the barn’s dark interior. Then, too soon, Dad loaded the trunk, and the owner, with his wide red face, let each of us kids pick out an apple for the ride home. I cruised between boxes and picked out the biggest, most perfect apple I could find. I chose red then, never yellow. The apple grew shiny and more beautiful on the ride as I polished it on my thigh. We couldn’t eat our prizes until they were washed; the thought of Dad lecturing about pesticides was enough to keep us from sneaking even one bite.
This same orchard, with a new metal barn, is where I brought my own son year after year. And with my father not there, knowing better myself (but still young and unable to refrain), the two of us, happy in the clear air, gorged ourselves like deer under the trees. Then we climbed the tall, narrowing ladders, through limbs and leaves, to pick. My light son, dappled by sunlight and shadows, climbed highest. We picked until our bags bulged so full we felt rich and could barely carry them to the car — enough fruit to last the winter. Lunch boxes, sauce, baked apples, and pies.
A cloud of nostalgia blew over me like fog when the orchard was sold and broken into three pieces. This was only one of many changes in the town, where I now lived: herds of dairy cows and steers had disappeared and hayfields sprouted three-story houses. Maybe it’s the loss of childhood’s landscape that makes change hardest: the sweep of fields we once played in now contracting to house lots and lawns, trees cut down, stretches of woods gone. Our parents, now grandparents; our children, and ourselves, no longer children. The inability to go back except in memory. Maybe it’s the fear we will forget, or that our children and grandchildren won’t know who we were, what we had, that they’ll never taste, never know the old varieties of apples. Apples that were best for pie; stored all winter; others that resisted frost. King, Gravenstein, Transparent, Winesap, Wealthy: names I had heard as a girl rolling down through time in their own genealogy.
But a family bought the third of the orchard with the white house, and they stayed with apples. That lifted my hopes that some things can change for the better. I am, as it turns out, my father’s daughter and am wary now of sprays and the unblemished globes I remember with such fondness.
A white tent appeared on the orchard’s front lawn with a sign lettered in red — APPLES. Two blonde boys and a mother with a braid sat there with a cash box and bags of Macintosh and Paula Reds. The trees beyond their house were heavy with fruit, despite the lack of rain. I bought a bagful. A few weeks later, after a sweetening October frost, the Golden Delicious (now my favorite) were ready to pick. And I picked until I filled my four bags — until I felt rich again.
- By: Elizabeth Tibbetts