When A Family Tradition Gets Cut

Red apple growing on tree. Natural products.Grandpa planted two apple trees, one for my sister and one for me.

“That’s your history,” Dad will say whenever we talk about those trees or the 200 acre farm site where they were planted. We call the farm The Home Place, since it’s the site where Dad grew up, and it’s the center of his farm operation with its shop and equipment storage and grain dryer. All the corn and soybeans pass through this site before being sold or stored in the grain bins. And next to those grain bins were the apple trees.

Each September, Mom would call the neighbors and my sister and myself to come get apples before they’d disintegrate to mush or fall off and sit idle in the grass attracting creatures that crawl and buzz. Mom and Dad have done little to maintain those trees—no chemicals or sprays—and yet they’d produce bushels of apples each year. ripe apples lie on green grass under apple tree No matter how many folks would show up to gather fruit, there would still be the piles of apples left behind. Dad would see that waste and the insects buzzing about and think, Just another damn thing I gotta clean up and fix today.

Some years the days would go by, and I would miss my chance to pick apples. Other years I would get Mom’s call and show up. My husband Michael would show, too. I’ve made pies and apple crisp and juice in my juicer. Michael’s dried apple rings and made kegs of hard cider. To have bags of food to use and store and respect is the real challenge of any harvest.

Last fall, my sister and I showed up with our daughters, three toddlers and one preschooler. We filled paper bags and ice cream buckets. We played in the shade of the trees. We talked a little about this and a lot about that. It was good plain fun. The apples tasted tart and then sweetened with each bite like an autumn day with its contrast of cool air on your cheeks and warm sun on your back.

Having a reason to bring my girls to the farm made me happy. I twisted the apples carefully from the branches, the way the owner of a local orchard showed me. He said if I twisted rather than pulled, it would protect the tree and help next year’s crop. I don’t know if Mom’s neighbors or my sister or parents practiced twisting. Certainly, the tree seemed to do fine without care in this matter. But I planned to come back with my daughters, and thus, it seemed a polite gesture on my part to ensure a crop for 2014.

In June, I went to The Home Place to help Dad clean up the storm debris in the groves surrounding the site. As I drove up the driveway, I passed the grain bins on my way to the shop and saw not the apple trees but their stumps cut level with the grass.

The words, “That’s your history,” rattled in my mind. Of all the things that are at The Home Place—the combine, the planter, the walls of tools, the seed house, the old horse saddle, the lilacs and dogwoods—those trees were the only things in my history of that farm that felt mine.

And yet, they weren’t mine. Not when Dad felt it okay to cut them without word or warning.

combining cornDuring an October harvest, when Dad’s combining the corn, my sister and I and our families often visit to show the kids the equipment, to let them ride along with Grandpa for a round in the combine. We take family photos. We listen to the whirl of the machinery and awe at the corn as it falls from the arm of the combine to the grain cart. I bring my daughters to see what their grandparents do. I want them to smell the dry, dusty air, and march in the dirt and hear the crisp husks crackle under their feet. But on those days, we are audience, not farmer.

The adult in me—the homeowner, the parent, the one who knows that maintenance can be a bitch—understands what Dad did. I did little to care for those trees. But still, when I saw those stumps, I couldn’t help but feel cut off myself. It was when I picked those apples, when I was active and engaged in gathering food that I could pretend to be a farmer, too.

Related post
If you missed yesterday’s post, Apple Picking: a video narrative I invite you to stay and watch my one minute, thirty second example of home movie brilliance.

2 thoughts on “When A Family Tradition Gets Cut

  1. “To have bags of food to use and store and respect is the real challenge of any harvest.” I love this line and this whole piece. I’m facing the challenge this weekend. My parents have a pear thee that my dad — not a farmer — loves, and every year he gets terribly anxious at the thought that the pears may go to waste. Of course they’re all coming ripe at once and starting to drop like crazy. Very little twisting required.
    Love that you were able to express your own sadness without blaming your father–or at least, while understanding his perspective as a working farmer. Love the way you started with the ringing phrase, “That’s your history,” but then realized, after you were brought up short by those two stumps, that “they weren’t mine. Not when Dad felt it okay to cut them without word or warning.”


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