Virden’s Homecoming dance was a couple weekends ago, and I went with my girlfriend. We had a lot of fun, and I got to see my family for a little while. However, when I was getting ready to leave, my girlfriend said she had a gift for me. She told me that she and her mother went to Broom Orchard last week and they bought a bunch of apples. Together, they had spent the whole week making apple pie and apple butter. I found this very ironic. Normally, the only people I ever associated with apples and Broom Orchard were you and NeNe. I told them how much I appreciated what they did for me and I came back to school. On my drive back is when it hit me. You know how much I miss you. You were my best friend. And every single time I eat an apple, you are what I think about. This was the first time I had ever had apple butter. It was completely new and unlike anything else I had ever tried before. Yet somehow, you still came to my mind. The apples that brought us together during my childhood have no doubt kept you with me through the years, even after you left this world physically.
Do you remember when we used to go to Broom on those wonderful, sunny, autumn days? It seemed like the weather was never extreme. In every memory I have of that place with you, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. The blueness of that early-autumn sky just made the treetops look that much greener. The colors in my mind are so vibrant. We would walk up and down the rows of trees, bag in hand, looking for the right apples. Could we have just went to the office and bought a bag of apples? Of course we could have. Could we have gone to the grocery store and bought them cheaper? Sure. But I am so glad we did not. Once we had our fill for the day, we would pay and leave.
It was quite a while ago, so the details of what came next are fuzzy to say the least. I know we ate them, I know a pie or two was made with them, and I know we had fun. However, I know that even if I did not like the taste of apples, we still would have had fun at the orchard. We went there for the apples the first time, I’m sure, and kept going back for the bonding. I remember being so close to you, and these visits to Carlinville were surely most of the reason why.
Do you remember that apple tree in your back yard? It was great, except for the mess it made on the ground below. So when my mom would leave me there for you to baby-sit me, we would have another project. On these days, oddly enough, I seem to remember the weather being smoldering hot. You would mow, and I would pick up the apples. Did I need any incentive? No, I probably would have done anything that you asked me to. I adored you that much. Yet you offered me five cents for every apple I picked up. I would grab them off the ground one at a time and put them in that brown paper bag from Schnucks. Once we were both done, we would meet in the garage and count them up. When I tell other people about this, it seems like you used me for my labor, but I know this isn’t true. I didn’t know it then, but the time we shared together then would stay with me forever. It didn’t matter if I picked up fifty-five cents worth of apples, or five dollars worth, I rarely had that money for long. I would find some way to spend it as soon as I could. But you knew this. I was your oldest grandchild, so you spoiled me.
You didn’t spoil me rotten, thank goodness, and you taught me the meaning of a dollar. When you’re between five and nine years old, standing out in the heat picking up apples (some of which were smelly and gross-looking) really is hard work. I worked for my reward and I felt a great sense of accomplishment once I achieved it. You allowed me to be who I wanted to be with you. I don’t specifically remember any stories you told me, but I do remember just chatting with you. What a grandpa you were. At the age of five, I’m sure that the conversations we had were very interesting. This could be why I felt so close to you. You always listened to me, even when I barely knew what I was saying. Although not every memory I have of you reminds me of apples, every experience I have with apples does remind me of you.
For these reasons and many more, it goes without saying that a couple days ago, when I first tasted a small amount of apple butter, you popped into my head. Apples are what I associate with my youth, and for that, I thank you. You shaped my childhood. Also, from the many lessons you taught me and memories I still have, you shaped my present life, and also my future. I will never forget you, whether you are living in my heart or a small, round, red fruit. This fruit indirectly made me who I am today, and who I will be when I am a grandpa. This wonderful object is more commonly known as the apple.
With love always,