A Personal Connection~How do you like them apples?

By Hank Manz  |  In my front yard are two apple trees which we inherited from friends when the trees and we were a lot younger and our friends were enlarging their house. The trees had to go and where they went was our front yard. The placement was awkward because I just wanted to keep them alive while I found a better site for them.

Our house lot is small and other things intervened so today the trees sit where they were planted years ago—too close together—and now it is too late to do anything about that although the storm last October did some serious pruning when it took the top out of one of them.

We were told that one of the trees would produce Macs while the other would give us Golden Delicious so I joked that a graft would produce an apple called the Manz Orchards Malicious.

For a few years they produced, but then there were several years when we got nothing. Courtesy of one of the email lists, we learned about winter moths and how to keep them at bay. So now every year, about the time the snow has finally left the ground, but before anything is even thinking of blooming, you will find me outside spraying the trees with my puny hand sprayer filled with something called dormant oil. All it takes is one spraying.

Once we learned that trick, the trees started to produce again. Overwhelmingly to boot. The resident woodchuck, the squirrels, and the chipmunks wandered around looking fat and happy and we feasted on applesauce, apple pie, apple cobbler, apple-stuffed squash and any number of things with “apple” in the name.

We don’t spray for bugs, however, so like the apples in the Joni Mitchell song, ours sometimes have spots and they are not always as perfect as the somewhat tasteless ones you buy in supermarkets.

Those spots sometimes make people think that the apples have something wrong with them so while some passersby enjoy an apple now and then, others look at them, but do not touch.

Our apple trees, like our tomato and cucumber plants, produce huge quantities over a very short period of time so what to do with them all begins to sound like a variation on a famous Henny Youngman line—“Take my apples … please!”

There is a little girl who lives a few houses away. Now and then she would take an apple, but then a few minutes later she would be brought back by her grandmother who handed the apple back with body language that said “I am sorry my granddaughter took your apple.”

Unfortunately, neither the child nor her grandmother share a common language with me and my attempts at sort of a sign language were never productive so I could not get the message across that it was alright to take the apples.

Then a light dawned. I went to the Lexington List and asked if somebody could write me a sign in Chinese that said something like “The apples are good to eat. Feel free to take one.” I received several replies within an hour.

Oh, I could have used Google Translate or some service like that, but I have heard stories of people who had Chinese and Japanese characters tattooed on their bodies only to find out later that they did not mean :Good Luck” or “Good Fortune” so now they needed a tattoo removal service. Immediately. And I remember the huge laugh several years ago when a notice about the Public Garden in Boston left the “L” out of Public.

But the sign looked good and after running it by a Hong Kong-born Mormon missionary who happened to stop by, I put it by the tree.

The little girl came by a short time later. She read the sign. Smiles. She left and returned with her grandmother. Nods. More smiles. Both left and returned with other family members. Even more smiles. Picking of apples followed.

I also found out that I had other neighbors who spoke Chinese. A great deal of smiling and multi-lingual exchanges. Then other people stopped by and shyly asked if they could try an apple.

I thanked all the people who had helped by sending a short note to the Lexington List. A couple of people suggested that a children’s book should be written about it. I thought about it, I have to admit.

But then I rejected the idea. A child wanted an apple, but we could not communicate well enough. Then a lot of things came together in space and time to allow it to happen. Then other people we didn’t know about were able to sample the apples.

The real story is not a puppy-mom-apple pie sort of thing, but that there was a small victory in a quest to communicate better. A victory that leaves me with a desire to make it happen more often and with much bigger issues than apples. The real story is that we all need to try harder to make things work and that is more than a children’s story.

The apples will be gone in a couple of weeks. What we humans don’t eat, the furry critters will. But I hope the magic of what happened with a child who wanted an apple and an adult who finally figured out how to tell her it was OK will last a lot longer.

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