Last Sunday, my sister, my thirteen-year old nephew, my fifteen-year old Sadie-girl, and my forty-something-something self, went apple picking. But a man wearing an apron stopped us before we could wander into the sweet humid orchards. Apron-man’s message? We would have to take a hayride and hand over fifteen dollars cash before any picking. No exceptions. I was irked and quickly became a grouchy drag to be around. I tried to rally. But I had a memory of what apple picking had been when my kids were toddlers and I was deep in attachment parenting mode. Back then we’d come to the same farm and no man with an apron ever stopped us.
In the years since my kids carried around baggies of snacks, like they might starve without Teddy Grahams at the ready, our apple picking go-to location went upscale.
I know the place needed to make money and appeal to a larger demographic. I don’t begrudge their entrepreneurial spirit. I know. I watched the DNC and the speeches about how some business’ fail and some business don’t. I was just surprised to find a room for local soaps, t-shirts, honey and homemade wine inside the formerly unapologetic barn. The room dedicated to local tchotchkes make me long for the simpler no-frills farm.
Back in the day, the floors were dirty the cider was pressed in the open, by exhausted seasonal workers with dark skin. There were no secrets on the farm and you drank your cider knowing that somebody had worked hard to make it so. There were boxes of apples with hastily handwritten labels slapped onto crates. No soap, no honey, no wind chimes made by local artists using found objects from the beach. I snarled to my sister something about the wind chime artist not using any of the gazillion used condoms or cigarette butts she’d surely found… why weren’t those among the tinkling beach glass and shells? My sister ignored me.
Once I settled down about the hayride and how much I didn’t want to go on one, we climbed aboard. I smiled my fake smile.
My forever picture-taking-traveling-sister, my sleepy, hungry, impatient nephew, my obliviously texting daughter and my fake good mood, were lodged atop bales of hay among young intact families of three and four. Mothers in makeup, toddlers in frocks, young fathers texting who about what, while late summer sun baked the wagon and the guy with the apron herded more families on board.
On Sunday, awash in the same sun as those young families, I felt for them. Empathy toward strangers is, after all, just projection. I dumped my own memories of discomfort within formalized family outings, onto the whole little wagon of adventurers.
But really, who was I to assume they were having anything other than a great, great time? Just because I’d bridled at the likes of Disney and Story Land (and judged my sister a sell-out for taking her children to Disney) rather than being a good sport, didn’t mean anyone else in the world was as self-righteous. Besides a hayride was hardly Disney. Still.
Yep, all that occurred in less than two minutes sitting on top of some hay. I was just beginning a story about the woman sitting across from me, and how she had quit her job to marry the guy who wasn’t helping her with the squirming three-year-old, the same guy who was checking his watch because…when my sister interrupted me.
“Let’s get off this thing” My sister said. I agreed, getting off was the only way to go.
My sister nudged my nephew, whose face was scrunched up because of the sun, snapped her fingers under Sadie’s nose. Sadie blinked, as if woken from a dream and surprised to find herself at the farm, her phone on her lap, dinging with new messages.
We climbed off the wagon into a swarm of toddlers chasing ducks that were scattered around the grounds like decorative plants. The ducks were white and well fed. They were not the hungry, mangy, ankle-nippers, of fifteen years earlier.
“Do you remember the pig, Big Boy?” I asked Sadie as we waded through the toddler-sea. There had been an obese dusty, wet and snorting pig, who’d lolled around in a pile of mud. And there had been the aggressive ducks and a few crippled goats, their hooves shaved unevenly.
“Big Boy had piglets once, right?” Sadie asked, I nodded.
That pig had indeed had piglets (settling the gender question that had previously stumped us). There had been eight or ten of them nursing and snoozing and we’d watched them for a long time one day. We’d hung on the slats of the pen, leaned against the gate that was tied with rope and watched the milk-drunk piglets. Then we’d ambled up an overgrown path into the orchards, shooed away fat, persistent yellow jackets, nibbled on tart, worm-riddled apples, climbed into all low crooks and out along every far reaching limb.
The orchards back then, meandered, marked by an arrow, illustrated with a Sharpie rendition of an apple, an apple to be transformed into a November pumpkin and an early summer strawberry and on and on and on.