Mom, let’s go apple-picking. Have you ever been apple-picking?
Mom looks at me with curiosity. “What, apple-picking?”
Yeah, apple picking. We go to an apple orchard, and we pick our own apples. We do it every year.
“Yah, let’s go apple-picking!”
Nick and Anthony aren’t very interested this year, so on a Friday when Jesse doesn’t have school, the 3-gen girls hit the road, two daughters and a mother, all of us no taller than the 5th percentile of height in America.
Mom is enthusiastic about doing something new. “On Hildreth [her old street in California] someone every year had this, you could go pick apples, but I never did it.”
88 years she’s waited for this experience. I am providing. It’s fun, I tell her, low key but fun. The apples are so fresh, pick one and bite into it, even a bad apple fresh off the tree is better than the best apple at the supermarket. Mom nods. We make plans to pick way too many apples. She can give some to the workers painting her house and to church friends.
I’ve read news on the website for the farm we’re going to: the Honeycrisps are ripe and ready for pick-your-own as of Thursday. I love Honeycrisps, and this is Friday. We’re getting there before the weekend so the pickings should be good. But when we arrive at the farm, the lady handing out bags tells me that, in fact, the Honeycrisp harvest stinks. There’s almost nothing on the trees.
We adjust. Pippins are nice. We drive down the dirt lane, past several other apple varieties I’m not interested in. The Pippins are at the very end, two rows of trees, and just one other car is parked there. Mom looks very curious as we pull up.
The trees are dripping with ripe apples. Mom is ooh’ing and aah’ing. Jesse is sixteen, so I have to tell her to put down her phone and grab a bag. We march down the row of trees, at least half way down so we can get to trees that fewer visitors have touched.
Mom starts out quick, pulling the closest apples she can reach and muttering ruefully about the apples that have already fallen to the ground. I haven’t seen her this young in decades. She’s laughing out loud about the abundance of apples, chattering about how she never got to do this before, how beautiful it is here. I suggest she slow down — choose the biggest, best ones, be picky. Mom, Jesse and I take juicy bites out of a shared apple and stand still under the blue sky for a bit, savoring the fresh tang.
As we gather apples, we take note of the often-paired ones, nose to nose – you pick one, the other of the pair falls off. So you have to take them both, or what a waste. Like twins, I say. They’re married, Jesse says. Like brother and sister, little grandma says.
We wander slowly up and down the row, trying not to pick all our apples from just one tree. I manage a couple pictures, but it’s an extremely low priority. Our hands are full of apples most of the time.
(Those aren’t Jesse’s natural cheeks by the way. Those cheeks are absolutely stuffed with apples in this picture. It was just too delicious for her to stop eating for the photo op.)
I walk away with purpose and spy from a distance. What a wonder my bookend girls are, my mother and my daughter. Jesse gets maternally protective, giving me the occasional stink-eye for not watching over her little grandma more carefully. The henpecking is gentle, responsible, loving. Grandma, be careful. Grandma, don’t go in there. Grandma, let me hold that for you. Grandma, what are you doing? Little Grandma seems to enjoy the attention. Jesse looks bemused as mom walks right into the center of a tree, among the branches, and comes back out laughing and carrying too many apples the size of softballs in the crook of her arms. Jesse helps pick them up and put them in the bag as little grandma drops them here and there, giggling all the while.
When our bags are overstuffed, we walk back down the row of trees to the car. We’ve picked 60 pounds of apples, no exaggeration. Mom wants to carry a bag holding about 10 pounds, and Jesse fusses about this decision. After a moment, she marches next to Mom’s wobbling form and gently insists on carrying the bag for her, but mom refuses to give it up. I invite them to each hold a handle on the bag, so Mom can carry it with Jesse’s help. This solution hits the spot, and they walk slowly, side by side to the the car.
In my world, filled with noisy emotions and needs and conflict, and years of mental health challenges and dangers and struggles for my kids, It’s all so strangely peaceful for this moment in the apple orchard. There’s nothing for Jesse to scream at. There’s no one to goad her. There are no triggers. There’s nothing to fail at. There’s just… apples and Little Grandma.
We spend the next couple hours being together. We make plans to come back to the orchard in a couple weeks for more apples. We get gas. We get lunch. We go to the grocery store. We get ice cream. It’s all slow and easy.
We take Little Grandma home. She wants to keep 20 pounds of apples. Before I think, I argue gently and unnecessarily. What are you going to do with 20 pounds of apples, Mom? They’ll go bad before you finish them.
“I love apples. I can eat them all.”