I suppose some of you have been wondering where I’ve been and I admit, I’ve felt a bit guilty about the haitus I’ve taken from blogging. Here’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! This is the season for contests and I have worked very hard on my contest entries. I entered ten categories and once the contest is over, I’ll probably publish the entries one at a time here on Chocolate Cream Centers. I also have done a bit of work on assembling a short story collection that will be titled “Chocolate Cream Centers, Volume One” I had several stories chosen and then realized that somebody died in at least half the stories. Am I morbid? My dear Uncle Bob says that I’m the most blood-thirsty writer he knows. He read a manuscript called “The Masterpiece” and scolded me roundly for killing off one of the favorite characters, but also has maintained all along that it truly is my “Masterpiece”. It was accepted for publication by Granite Publishing almost ten years ago, but I was very dissatisfied with their lack of business sense and decided that the manuscript was worthy of a better publisher. Soooo, it sits in the dark, waiting for the right time and place. Anyway, that’s what’s cooking in my world. Here is a piece that I wrote for the nostalgia category. When I read it to Jeff, he wasn’t impressed, so I decided to write something else that would have more emotional impact. He bawled like a baby when I read him the new piece, so it’s the one that got submitted. This is more of a true “nostalgia piece” than the one I submitted…remembering old times and pleasant memories. Those of you that have been to the coast of CA near Santa Cruz (Aptos to be exact) will remember the almost magical charm of the area. I’d love feedback. I like this piece, even if Jeff care for it. At least he understands something about my produce shopping!
I stood staring at the springtime display of the fruit trees in the home improvement store. A label on a little apple tree immobilized me. ‘Double Red Delicious’ it read. Double Red. I thought my father had made up the name.
I was just five when we moved from our rented cottage a few blocks from the beach to our new home on Pleasant Valley Rd. Dad had built the five bedroom home on an acre of land, himself. The property was surrounded on all sides with commercial apple orchards with the Santa Cruz Mountains rising behind them.
Our little patch of earth was the pollinator lot. Some adventuresome orchardist had planted five varieties of apple trees on that one acre. We had Pippins, Bellflowers, Red Delicious and Yellow Delicious. The prize apples were the ones Dad called ‘Double Red Delicious.’
We’d never seen such apples! That first year, we watched as the semi-dwarf trees swelled their fruit as big as grapefruits! Their fragile skin blushed so deep it was almost black. White pin-points scattered over the cheeks like freckles on the nose of a five-year-old.
When they were perfectly ripe, their flesh turned pale yellow and the sugary juice ran down our chins. Their skin was more delicate than a newborn baby’s and melted away under our teeth. We picked them on our way to the bus stop, rubbing the dust off on our sweaters. We crunched them from our lunch pails and snacked on them after school. If I had a good book, I’d spread a towel under a tree and read until I had a pile of ten cores.
Most of our trees were plain ‘Red Delicious.’ They were stripy apples that I don’t often find in sold as dessert apples. The commercial trees that surrounded our lot mostly went for cider. My brothers and sister and I had apple fights with those other varieties. In the spring, they were like little rocks and would raise a good welt. In the summer, they’d bruise us more seriously than the other way around. They were about the size of a baseball and we used them as such. If you got a really square hit on an apple, the fielders had to play with the biggest fragment. It was easier than hunting up a real baseball lost in the deep grass. Apples didn’t break windows as often as real balls, either.
In the fall, we harvested at least a ton of apples off our little patch. Dad built an insulated refridgerated room in a corner of the garage. All together, we’d only get a couple hundred pounds of the Double Reds. They were picked one at a time. We gave them as gifts, polished and protected.
Winter apple fights were the most fun and the most gruesome. By then the wormy or scabbed apples had rotted to brown mush but still had enough integrity to hold together in flight. The splatter of a full-force rotten apple is too gory for young children to see.
Nobody wasted the Double Reds without receiving a round scolding from any witnesses. It was sacrilegious, irreverent, and unacceptable.
We moved 2000 miles away when I was fifteen. We lived in a tiny rented house with not so much as a strawberry plant in our postage stamp yard. At first our stay in St. Louis, MO was supposed to be a sabbatical, but Dad liked the new direction of his work and began to think of staying in the Midwest. He’d had a triple coronary bypass right after we got there, and I think he hesitated to go back to coaching football for the high stress of it, too.
Gradually I began to realize what we had lost. My older brothers were far away pursuing grown up things. Winter had teeth like fangs and summer was a hellish haze of sweat and mammoth bugs. When the fall came without apples, it was like December without Christmas. I wondered if I’d ever taste another apple like our Double Red Delicious.
In that distant place, we found apples that resembled our favorites for sale. But they were cruel disappointments. Some brilliant scientist had the idea that those beautiful, sweet apples could be lucratively marketed. . .if only their skins weren’t so delicate. As they were, they’d never stand up to being dumped by the bucketful into a bin and then sorted, washed, waxed, packaged, shipped and displayed.
So he took some sweet little twig of a blossom and cross-pollinated it with a tough-skinned old football. Lo! A sweet-fleshed, prettily colored, symmetrically starred fruit with skin so tough you can make shoes out of it.
Of course it would never do to leave them on the tree until their sugar developed in the cool, overcast skies. Their shelf life is quite short once they’re fully ripe. No, they look good long before they’re sweet. But customers don’t know that until they’ve laid their green on the counter and carried home a bag full of pseudo-apple-things.
A few years passed after we left Pleasant Valley and I began to suspect that those Double Red Delicious apples were like fruit from the Trees of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Once you’re gone, you’re gone. You can’t go back and NO! You can’t have another apple!
Not that I didn’t try. I fell for the piled-high pyramids of dark purple fruit over and over again. There was always something wrong. I had to spit out the tough skin but they were usually green-in-the-flesh, too.
One time, some apples came close. My husband and I had just moved to our first post-college job and visited a store named “Lucky’s.” A display of beautiful apples dominated the produce section. I squeezed them gently and recognized the little ‘pop’ under the pressure of my middle finger that meant the apple was crisp. The stars shone clear and bright on the purple skins. I bought thirty pounds.
In the parking lot, I polished the wax off on my sweater. I bit. The skin was tender and delicate and melted between my teeth. The sweet juice ran down my chin. It was the best apple I’d had in ten years. But my refined palate detected the subtle shading of ‘green’. The apples had been yanked off the tree just a week or two before they reached full sugar. Picked like an early c-section. I didn’t regret the thirty-pound purchase, but ‘close’ was not the same.
I buy lots of apples: several hundred pounds per year. They’re part of who I am. I enjoy some of them. I eat the mushy, tough-skinned ones as penance for my sins. I make applesauce if I have nothing serious to repent of.
But that day in the home improvement store, there was ‘Double Red Delicious,’ standing like an old friend at a high school reunion. The picture on the tag looked right. Dark purple with white stars. “A sweet dessert apple,” it claimed.
Apple trees take between six and eight years to start bearing. I held the tag in my hand, remembering. Who knows where I’ll be in eight years? What if I raise this little tree to full size and it has a football for an ancestor? Or would it be even worse if it turned out to be the untainted offspring of my childhood variety? Would I be torn away a second time when we moved?
I arranged the tag so that it showed forward. I selected a nice, safe Elberta peach tree. They give fruit in their third year. Someone will buy little Double Red. If she’s genuine, someone will eat the crisp, sweet flesh in on their way to the bus stop before school. Someone will wash their chins in the cold, sugary juice and sticky their hands as they eat their lunch. But I can never go back. Like childhood, I can never go back.