This is a collection of family stories that are told repeatedly anytime the Smith clan congregates during a vacation or a holiday. I’m sure some of them are told more from my perspective than others but I welcome added insight from those involved. These stories are part of who we are and I want them recorded. Not all of them are pretty, but that is ok.
It was a friendly tree for small people, having branches down low and plenty of climbing space. When the leaves were on you could hide in it, and that happened from time to time. We had to cross a small distance of back yard, squeeze between the barbed wire and the lower part of a fence, run up hill through a narrow field and at the edge of a woodlot of hardwoods was the smaller, evenly proportioned crab apple. All of us learned to get there quickly. It was far enough away to be secretive yet close enough that everything on our small farm was within sight and hearing.
There would be a time each spring when we would suddenly notice the tree getting white with blossoms. It was an obligatory ritual to get a bouquet of branches for the house and we would always go up to the tree with excitement and then remember the bees. Lots of bees, and there would always be some on the branches that we wanted to pick. But the smell of apple blossoms was strong and wonderful, filling the air. We would be brave, grab our prize branches and run back to the house, imaginary insects chasing us down the hill.
The time would come when the ground beneath the tree would be white because the petals had fallen off, like snow floating on the breeze. Instead of being white the tree would get faintly green, then darker as the leaves grew bigger. The little green apples would appear where the blossoms had been. It was safe for climbing then. The bark was often marked with woodpecker holes – I don’t know why I remember that so clearly. You could read a book in that tree. Or play all kinds of pretend situations. I had dolls, but more often it was kittens that got dressed up as babies and put to sleep in a box under the tree while I went to forage for food in the woods. The tall grass of the field would be the walls of our house and the tree was the second story.
The apples didn’t need long to ripen. I think sometime in July we would see them start to redden. They were too sour for anything except apple butter that had sugar to sweeten it up. But it was these little apples that made their way into the story that my family tells when we are together thinking about our childhood. My four younger brothers were a tribe of wild ones and I was occasionally put “in charge” or so I thought, when our parents were away briefly. One time we had an inept babysitter who was doing very little to shepherd the flock and a disagreement arose. It quickly escalated and the rebellious leader of the wild ones, who knew better than to throw rocks, decided crab apples would be suitable. The hard little bullets were easy to throw. I ran to the house and locked them out which made them even more angry.
I got bigger. The tree seemed smaller. I don’t remember when it started dying and losing branches. Years later I visited the farm and the tree wasn’t there any more. I was sad, but it seems that is the way with all things that live, and then they don’t. Except in our memories, for a while.