Fruit From the Source

Submitted into Contest #63 in response to: Write about two characters going apple picking.... view prompt

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Fiction

   The ancient AMC Rambler bumped along the rough sod between the rows of apple trees. The warm smell of the orchard, sweet and fruity mixed with the clean grass scent filled the air as Edith and Agnes opened the doors with a creak.

    The two women stood looking across the field before turning to get their wooden apple boxes out of the car. Their flowered cotton dresses were covered by serviceable aprons with deep pockets. The dresses looked like ones their mother or grandmother wore while working at home.

     “Looks like we’ll be the only ones picking in this section,” Edith said as she pulled the weathered bushel boxes off the back seat of the ancient auto.

    “Same as the last, I don’t know…five years maybe.” Rooting around the trunk, Agnes searched for their equipment. “Did you bring the baskets for filling the boxes?”

    “Yep, they’re in one of my boxes.” Edith turned and started to set boxes near several different trees. “Folks nowadays just don’t appreciate or understand picking food to see you through the year. They want to eat strawberries in January and ear corn in April.”

    Agnes laughed as she started reaching for apples and setting them into the basket with a dishtowel on the bottom to cushion the apples. “Shopping almost every day, can you imagine?”

    “Momma wouldn’t have ever gotten anything done,” Edith said with a chuckle.

    “Certainly not after Pa died.” That prosaic comment from Agnes sparked memories of a long ago fall. Neither would say it to the other, but that harvest festival event was foremost in their minds each year as they arrived for apple picking.  

    Harvest festivals like the spring planting rituals were important in their community. For years they were critical to the fiber which bound the farmers to the land. With more commuters, newcomers and the passing of the old guard, the traditions were changing. It remained to be seen if the change was for the better.

    The women thought about the rituals and prayers their family and every other family in their neighborhood of the hollow would say as crops were planted and trees bloomed. They sought blessings for the plants which would grow to become the food to sustain the local residents, both human and animal. While they still carried on some of the customs, they no longer practiced them all.

    “Looks like a fair harvest this year,” Agnes said as she filled another box half-way. “Not like that year.” The two women continued to select their apples, picking the heavy solid fruit, chosen for the ability to store well. The old varieties – Baldwin, Wolf River, Black Oxford and Gravenstein – were good cooking apples for pies and sauce. More importantly they would last until spring in the root cellars. Providing food for the long winter along with the other crops harvested by the sisters.

    “A good thing too,” Edith reminded her, shaking her head. “After Pa died in that bonfire, we couldn’t have the harvest celebration for five years. The crop was bad. Lots of hungry people those years.”

    Agnes bristled, “That had nothing to do with Pa. The spring festival didn’t catch any alewives for the furrows.” She continued the long running argument with her sister. They thrashed it out every year or two to no avail. “That was why there weren’t any apples. Then there was the early frost at bloom the next year.” She shuddered as she moved around the tree. “That hit lots of crops.”

   The leaves shivered on the trees, dancing in the sunlight as a wind flicked across the hillside. Impossibly fluffy cotton clouds bloomed overhead, their whiteness highlighting the vivid blue of the sky.

    A voice spoke from behind the women, “Hello, ladies.” The sisters started and turned to look at the young man standing on the farm road. “I’m surprised to see anybody out here in this section.”

    “Oh, you gave me a start, young man,” Edith said as she held a hand to her bountiful bosom.

    “Sorry, I didn’t mean to. Just surprised anyone is out here. These apples mostly go into our cider production.” The denim and flannel clad man walked down the dirt track past their car, taking in the sight of the half full apple boxes positioned on the ground.

    “That may be, but these are the apples which carry us through the winter.”  Agnes smiled as she placed more apples in her basket.

   “Carry you through the winter? Why don’t you just come out to the apple barn or even the grocery store to buy more?” he asked.

    “Of those new flashy kinds? I don’t think so,” Edith said. “Jonagold, Sweet Tango, Juici…what kind of names are those for an apple? Tango is a dance. How can you make it sweet?” She walked over to a box and carefully transferred apples from her basket to the apple box.

    “No flavor or substance. They just become mush in a pie.” Agnes smiled across the branches at him.

    “I guess I haven’t thought about that.” He shook his head, “I’m Justin Hicks. These apples have been the secret ingredient in our cider for years. Most older orchards have ripped them out to replace with newer varieties.”

    “We appreciate that you still have them. It’s what brings us here every year.” Edith moved back to the tree with her basket.

    “Well, that and celebrating the Harvest Moon,” Agnes said as she looked across the fields back toward the barn.

    “It was always here when we were girls.” Edith sat her basket down on the ground.

    “My grandfather told me stories about the bonfires.” Justin said as he began to reach up and pick apples into Edith’s basket.

    “That was only just one part of the celebrations. The Greening Grass and Milk Moons in the spring were my favorites. Warm weather coming after the cold.” Agnes started to sway and step around the farm road mimicking dancing with a partner.

    Justin laughed as he carried Edith’s basket over to an apple box. The women stopped him before he could transfer any of the fruit.

    “Don’t fill them anymore,” Edith said. “We need to put the boxes into the car before we top them off.”

    Agnes smiled and said with a wink, “We don’t have a strong young man at home to help us carry them, so we try to work smarter not harder.”

    Looking abashed because he neglected to think of that reality, Justin offered to load the boxes into the car. The women proceeded to fill them with the bounty which would carry them through the cold, snowy weather to come. They talked about the orchard and its history. As one of the oldest pick-your-own locations in the state, people picked apples at the farm in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.

     Justin twinkled at them, “It was just good timing. What it really means is we’ve been open for more than one hundred years. But it sounds impressive in the ads.”

    Edith and Agnes both laughed. They knew how timing could impact and effect so many things in life. They thanked Justin and turned the car toward the apple barn to pay for their produce, calling goodbye to the trees as they left the field.

    The trees stretched and the leaves fluttered in the sunlight, but no wind rustled the grass or around the limbs. The orchard settled down to wait for any others who might come to pay their respects, offering an homage to the fruit of the earth.

October 17, 2020 01:48

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