Notes from the Glebe

Transmission: Apples

Sep 19, 08:55 AM

by Jaron Gaier

This morning, as we rode up to Stone’s Apple Barn, my family and I remembered past apple-picking years. Last year’s forays into the Mutsu and Empires. The year before’s trek around the bog, into some Red Delicious. Wagon rides, only a few years ago, as infants in baby-backpacks. We’ve been going for a long, long time – and this is something that puzzles me. Today, I couldn’t pick out memories from one year or the other. I remember Jude, my brother, as an infant in a blue jumpsuit and curly-cued blonde top, gnawing on Jonathans. I remember Gianna, my sister, as an infant sleeping in a sling ‘neath my mother’s arm stretched up to get a low-hanging fruit. I remember Eli, my brother, running barefoot to grab my hand to pull him up, face red and hands cold, onto the John Deere’s hay-baled wagon. But I sure couldn’t tell you which years these all happened to fit in. There is a time, I know, that we hadn’t ever been. Granny Smith virgins we all once were.

But I don’t know when that time was – and I’m usually pretty good about ascribing dates to spaces and times; it helps to have siblings’ births evenly spaced throughout my childhood years. We’ve been picking them-apples for as long as some of them have been born. Probably three or four of them suckled starry-eyed on the Winesap of East Moline, Illinois, and the two eldest of us now get to do the annual collegiate chow on something we’ve not tried yet – Jonalicious.

And I think I kind of like it this way. I like not knowing where one memory stops and another begins. I appreciate the haziness. My memories are sort of labeled (“I think,” said the tractor driver today, “that the pink ribbons are Jonathans”). They certainly follow a pattern, and they certainly go in rows. Though they get gnarly and yawn with age, they’re definitely still all there, whether I can place them or find them or drive a tractor to them or not.

Perhaps this haziness of memory, this uncertainty of exact locus is what often accompanies all family tradition. My family doesn’t have too many traditions, I would admit (at least, none that I can brag so wholeheartedly about as apple-picking), but this haziness, of course, is what accompanies all memory. You would think, though, that if it were a tradition, a family’s transmission of habitual actions or beliefs, it wouldn’t be so hard to define and defend from the grasp of time and age. I’m certainly not aged (Dylan once quipped: “It’s took me a long time to get young and now I consider myself young”), though watching my younger siblings run around and do the things I used to do makes me realize that I’m older than ever. And that I won’t be doing this for all time. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be picking apples every year with my young family, whether I will be around this time next year, two years from now – can it stay a tradition without the whole family?

I’m forgetting, I have to admit, that tradition acts also as a verb. To tradition a set of beliefs or habitual actions unto another could be just as good as actually acting in a tradition yourself, right? It is valuable, yes, to pass along knowledge and customs to another generation – as I like to think that I’m doing when I raise my youngest sister upon my shoulders to reach a high-hanging tart one – and hardly anything is more important than benefiting the youngest among us with the best of values. But there’s something about actually being there yourself, actually participating in the tradition yourself, that seems a bite more valuable than solely passing it along down the line, only to watch it put in the growing bag by somebody else, even if it is your Grandma or your kid brother. I ate probably five or six apples in an hour and a half’s time today, and I would not have it any other way – I need to continue benefiting myself with these best values before I can bequeath them all to the little’uns. So, in the tradition of my mother and grandmother before me, I’m going to bake some apple pie, mash up some apple sauce, cook some apple crisp, and push it all on my neighbors. I’m going to keep an apple a day to eat the doctor away. I’m going to throw apples into the sky, towards Old Main, at the squirrels. And I’m going to continue telling my fambly about how great this all is, how awesome that hill looks, how ominous the clouds loom, and how full these darned apple trees are this year.

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