Childhood love affair with apples grows old

Apples come with a certain amount of romance, but then reality sets in and something must be done with all that fruit

I was one of the kids on the station platform the day the Canadian National Railway train chugged into town, and the minute the door of the baggage car rolled open, I knew they had arrived.

I could smell apples — boxes and boxes of luscious McIntosh apples from the orchards of British Columbia. With a minimum of fresh fruit in our diet, I could only dream of that paradise where the trees were laden with so many apples that the saints who lived there were willing to ship their surplus to us prairie paupers.

That afternoon, the village storekeeper pushed his wheelbarrow back and forth across the cinder pathway, stacking the wooden boxes of apples in that part of his store otherwise reserved for block salt and milking pails. He did not have to advertise thereafter. Colorful labels on the end of every box boasted shiny red apples. Their perfume permeated the entire store, and the fruits themselves bulged out between the slats of each box.

“They’ve come,” I told my mother that day when I got home from school.

“The apples are in.”

Never a demanding person, she broached the subject to Dad at the supper table.

“I guess we should think about getting a box of apples before too long.”

Seldom so accommodating, he came home with a box the very next day. The nails squeaked as he loosened the slats on the top of the wooden box with a claw hammer. The lid sprang open, and my eyes scanned the top layer of fruit for the biggest apple.

For many nights thereafter I padded down the dim hallway in bare feet and flannel pajamas to choose my very own apple. Propped up in bed with the hot water bottle at my feet and a plump feather pillow behind my back, I used my patchwork quilt to polish the apple until its cheeks reflected fat parentheses of lamplight.

Over the next few weeks, the contents of the box dwindled away, as did my appetite for apples.

Decades later, however, I was to discover they were my husband’s favourite fruit, so one year I presented him with an apple sapling for his birthday. It was such an itsy bitsy excuse for a tree I couldn’t, in my wildest imagination, picture it fully mature.

It just seemed like such a nice sentimental idea to plant a fruit tree in the front yard. Whoever dreamed it would be loaded with apples every fall?

Not me.

But friend hubby coddled it through the nursery stage and watched it grow into a teenage tree and then one spring it blossomed into maturity.

Every autumn I think back wistfully to those first few apples friend hubby picked so lovingly. He was standing up there on his stepladder with his little plastic pail and it was one of those special moments I captured on film. It’s a good thing too, because it never happened again.

Once that apple tree realized it could grow apples, it didn’t know when to stop. It became a burgeoning big tree usurping a quarter of the front yard, shading all the adjacent flowerbeds and blocking out the sunlight that once streamed through the west window.

For 40 autumns its limbs sagged wearily under the weight of apples and every year while friend hubby was gleefully digging out more bushel baskets in preparation for picking, I was frantically thumbing through recipe books for more ways to use the impending crop, gathering up more plastic bags in which to freeze apple slices, rounding up more sealers to hold applesauce and scrounging together more tin foil pie plates.

Meanwhile, friend hubby was patiently sorting apples, storing apples, peeling apples, coring apples, drying apples, eating apples and admiring apples.

He just loved apples.

Me? I was secretly phoning friends who had no fruit trees. Their answers were all essentially the same: “Well, I guess I could use enough for a couple of pies.”

Just a couple?

The problem only got worse when the family grew up and left. There were just the two of us now, and then friend hubby passed away.

I think his apple tree must have been grieving because it gradually stopped producing. The deer came and ate the few apples that fell from its aging branches, and when I called an arborist, she confirmed my suspicions.

“I think it has run its course and should be removed.”

I have to admit it was a bittersweet day when landscapers began lopping off its branches one by one. When I looked out my picture window later, the scene looked so bare. A red squirrel chattered complaints over what happened to his favourite haunt. Birds no longer flitted around branches that once touched the house. Deer wandered around aimlessly looking for apple treats.

Come spring, I hope to fill the void with another tree, except it will be one that does not grow apples.

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