… has plucked this tale of autumn to tempt you into entering our contest tribute to Peggy Dobbs, in our first annual Peggy Dobbs Write-of-Passage contest. All entries must include the phrase “I swear, it’s not too late.” The winner can buy a whole lot of mom and apple pie with $500, which is our prize.
by Stefani Allison
On our first day of autumn, I went to the backyard, relishing the now cooling air and gentle sunshine, abating the long hours of intense summer heat. My purple Bohemian skirt swayed in the breeze and the grass tickled my bare ankles as I came to the part of fall I long for most: our very own homegrown apple tree. The tree doesn’t look too much bigger than it did when I was younger, but looking up at it, I felt joy seeing the abundance of apples growing, waiting to be picked.
For most of my life, this tree rarely, if ever, yielded any fruit. For years, I wondered how anyone knew it was an apple tree. I also thought we had some obscure kind of tree, because when it finally began growing apples, it didn’t really remind me of any of the fruit I found at the store. The apples were green, leading me to at first believe they were Granny Smith, but my father was quick to correct me. When we were finally able to pick any apples, at first, I disliked them; they tasted too sour for my liking (but, then again, when I was younger, I avoided foods that weren’t processed or picked up from a drive-thru). For whatever reason or miracle, as I grew older, the tree branches became heavier with more fruit for us to survive a few good weeks if we had to. As I grew into a woman, I also grew appreciative and proud of the tree in our backyard. The crisp skin breaking under my teeth, the flow of the fresh juice, and the grainy texture of the flesh has become one of my most cherished memories of early adulthood.
My sister and her girlfriend were visiting that day, and while I was talking to her girlfriend, she noticed that my parents and sister were still outside, even though I already told them the coffee was ready. We went outside and my father and sister were cutting through the netting we draped over the tree to prevent birds from eating all our apples, as my mother stood in the safety of the shade of the garage.
“What are you guys doing?” I asked. My father yanked on the netting, leaves cascading to the grass.
“I just talked to the neighbors,” my father told me. “Squirrels are getting in, eating the apples, and leaving the cores on their lawn. They want us to get rid of the apples.”
“Wait, ALL of the apples?” I asked. “But some of them aren’t ready yet!” I stole a glance at an apple smaller than the diameter of my thumb.
“Dad’s really upset, just do it,” my sister said, pulling some apples down.
I was alright with picking apples and with the thought that they would eventually be barren again—just not on the first day of autumn. Bitterly cold guilt mounted like inches of early snow for every apple I pulled off the tree.
All five of us had to suppress more than a little anger and resentment that we were being ordered to pick our own apples before they were ready. Later, I learned that none of the apples I ever ate from the tree were actually ripe; birds, as well as squirrels, always ate the apples before they had a chance to turn yellow and develop any sweetness. Also, not knowing what kind of apples grew or what they were supposed to look like, I willingly, through the years, ate the underdeveloped apples. I want to believe if I knew, I would have given them a chance to be everything they were meant to be.
We saved what we could. The apples that were edible were put into a box on the grass. The apples that had been pecked or damaged from the fall to the ground were thrown into a compost bin. My mother told me to take the box into the house, and I cradled the box in my arms, the apples seemingly asking me what they had done to deserve being torn from their branches before they were ready. I held the box to my bosom and patted it, hopefully conveying some sort of sense of comfort, before laying the box to rest peacefully on our kitchen counter.
My father continued to pull the rest of the netting from the tree, feeling that we had done enough for the day, and leaving the remaining apples to the mercy of the birds and squirrels—not that I felt they were any safer in the palms of our hands anymore. I hated what we had done. I hated that we sank to the inconvenience of man instead of bowing down to generosity of God’s creation in Mother Nature.
But before I could condemn this day to infamy, I glanced to the left side of the tree. As I came closer, I realized my plea for forgiveness had been waiting for me before I even woke up that morning.
On one branch, two late-blooming blossoms were getting ready to bring forth new apples.
I swear, it’s not too late.