From my writing chair, I can see the apple tree. A few years ago, we thought we'd lost it. The apple turnout proved puny and most of the branches were completely bare. "It’s dying," my husband said. He called a tree trimmer who performed major surgery. A single healthy branch remained. The following spring, the tree came back, thriving. Branches sprouted from the trunk, blossoms bloomed, apples grew. We couldn't kill it if we wanted to.
There was a time my daughter would have rejoiced in its death. She was seven and her job was to pick up the fallen apples. Since most of them drop before they've ripened, this was quite a chore. She hated the task, even when my husband bribed her. "A penny an apple, Shannon," he'd say. (We try to forgive his meager offers. He was raised by parents who survived the depression.)
Fourteen years ago, we moved into our home. It was autumn. The naked trees and brown flowerbeds kept a big secret because the previous owner was a loyal gardener. Each season offered surprises--daffodils popping through snow, purple irises parading on Mother’s Day, a climbing Peace Rose commemorating summer break. And by Labor Day--apples.
That first spring, I marveled at the pinky white blossoms covering the tree outside our living room window. Whenever I caught a glimpse, I smiled. That afternoon, I had no idea apples would replace the flowers. But by mid-summer green apples littered the grass under the tree, and Shannon had a job.
When the tree burst in bloom the following spring, I called out in delight to my daughter. "Look, Shannon."
She glared at the tree and groaned. "Ugh! Apples!" In a few months, she would have to fill up plastic grocery sacks with its fruit.
It's only July, but the apples are already falling. My daughter is twenty-one now. She probably won't be picking up the apples this summer. I don't even ask her to pick up her room anymore. This is her last summer at home. When the apple blossoms arrive next spring, she will be taking her final mid-term exams. And about the time the blooms turn into tiny green fruit, she will cross a stage, accept her diploma and start a new life. A new life where people don't say things like, "A penny an apple," and "Please pick up your room so that you don’t break an ankle getting into bed."
Next year, the first year without her, I will sit in my writing chair and wish the apple tree had given up a few years back, instead of surviving, becoming sturdier each season. Then, out of the blue, Shannon will call. She'll tell me something that happened, something minor that could have waited, but I'll be glad it didn’t. That day I'll be reminded of the little girl who hated the apple tree and of the woman who will thrive and grow stronger each year, making a life of her own.
Kimberly Willis Holt writes from her home in West Texas where cottonwoods and mesquite grow freely, and with a little care, a few apple trees. To learn more about her books, please visit her website at http://www.kimberlywillisholt.com/