Monday, October 15, 2018

Of Apple Trees

(I'm still going through my filing cabinet of stuff I've written and found this. It's on yellowish paper and typed on what doesn't look like a Selectric typewriter. I have no idea when I wrote it. It is me (Richard) and my step-grandmother, Clevie Bradley. I don't think it ever happened but it fits us both.)


"If they're apple trees," the small boy said, leaning his blond head to one side and squinting his eyes, "why aren't there any apples?"

Beside him on the porch, his grandmother rocked slowly, staring across the rolling fields  that stretched out in front of the house. She could feel his hazel eyes on her face--tracing the wrinkles there, waiting, questioning. The orange sun just above the horizon was slowing burning away the light haze of dawn. Across the distant fields she could sense the coming July heat--the heat that would send her time and again to the bucket sitting on her kitchen cabinet, send her to life the dipper and drink the cool well-water that would only momentarily soothe her burning thirst.

"Daddy said they were apple trees", the boy said, impatient with her silence. "Daddy said...."

"They are apple trees, Richard," she whispered through her thin lips, accenting his name deliberately.  She turned toward him and he caught her eye with his, fixing her gaze until he glanced away to search for the source of a soft rustling of wings she could not hear.

Freed from his stare, she looked again at the fields, noticing for the first time some whispy patches of fog just above the ground. Somewhere over there--she thought--we would stand and look back at the house as the sun rose behind us...and we'd hold hands and talk about all we were going to do. And through the low lying fog, she fancied she saw two shadows, hand in hand, looking toward her.

"What kind of birds are those, Grandma?" the boy asked, pointing to the sky. He touched her arm softly with his brown hand, He stood silently beside her rocking chair and watched two birds soaring in the distance, piercing the morning mist with their song as they rose.

She strained to see, looking in the direction he had pointed, but the rising sun stung her eyes and she couldn't distinguish the birds against the sky.

"What kind?" he asked again, pressing her thin arm gently, demanding that she answer. She lifted his hand from her arm with long, thin fingers. Impatiently, he looked around, pursing his lips and frowning in displeasure. She held his hand in hers and whispered softly, "you were hurting Grandma's arm."

He pulled away and walked to the edge of the porch, searching in the distance for the birds.

The shadows moved across the field, blending into the scattered ground fog. And as we'd come back he'd take out an old blue handkerchief and wipe his face and I'd laugh, 'you act like an old man', and he'd lean on my shoulder and limp home chuckling, 'carry me! Oh, I'm an old man!"

The boy walked heavily across the porch, sighing to attract her attention. Then he sat down on the porch steps, dropped his head and waiting for the dew to dry. It was still early in the day. The boy's father would come and get him in the afternoon, after the boy's mother was out of the hospital , missing her appendix.

He scuffed his feet and she knew he longed to be in the old, barren orchard behind the house, searching the summer fields for signs of life, digging in the soft soil to find slimy brown worms, climbing the apple-less trees to look for birds' nests.

"Meadow Larks," she said at long last, waiting until his lifted his head to look out across the fields before she repeated it--"Meadow Larks, that's what the birds were, Richard."

He smiled, saying the words over and over, "medalark, medalark, medalark," though the birds were long since gone. He jumped up and walked over to her, still smiling, to suddenly kiss her wrinkled face damply.

"The grass must be almost know," looking at the yard and then at her.

She looked at the glistening yard and said, slowly, "it just might be...."

He leaped from the porch and turned a clumsy somersault in the moist grass. When he stood up he looked down at the wetness of his clothes. She smiled at his surprise and said, "almost."

He smiled again, bending his head to one side, then skipped around the house, singing softly, ""

She rocked slowly, silently, touching her cheek with the back of her hand to remember Richard's kiss, searching the long field for a trace of the two shadows in the last vestiges of fog.

When we'd get back, he'd run to the orchard and bring back some apples and I'd laugh to see the juice that ran down from his lips as he ate....From around the corner of the house she could almost hear him running to her. She turned to watch him come, breathlessly bringing her a dew-wet apple to eat in the early morning.

"Grandma, Grandma," the boy said as he ran around the house and up the porch to her. She shivered involuntarily as she pushed back a lock of blond hair from his forehead.

"Why aren't there any apples, you didn't tell me?"

Silently, she pushed herself out of the rocking chair and walked to the screen door.


"They're all too old," she said sadly, "too old to have apples."

He stood mutely, squinting at the still rocking chair and wondering at her answer until she disappeared into the house. When the screen door shut behind her, he turned and ran, suddenly laughing, toward the orchard. He was barely six years old.

As she stood in the kitchen, drinking slowly from the metallic dipper, she could hear Richard, chanting as he ran toward the apple trees, "too old, too old, too old...."


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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.