Candy (and toothbrushes but no) Apples
I begged my dad to leave the apples. I could use them. I was sure I could figure it out. And, I one thing I believed I knew about my niece was a love of apples. My niece had asked for apples. She even asked me to provide her snack of apples during my last visit to Israel. Moreover, I had learned exactly how to cut them in the circle shape she preferred. In fact, “tapuach” was one of the few words, low hanging fruit some could say, I was able to learn. Not even the word in Hebrew for house stuck in my brain like “apple”.
“Don’t you want to take care of these? If you think you can. You know Nancy will take another bushel. You could sauce them,” Dad offered at least a peck of solutions.
I had dissuaded him from purchasing extra candy. “They don’t eat it,” I simply stated without noting that the Christmas candy had remained in their refrigerator into early March. “Leave the apples. Ofir will eat them. Let her pick them.”
In order to wait until my brother and his family to arrive, Dad had to cover the final products of our harvest with a blanket. Their flight was due the day after a hard frost. On that first morning, my niece Ofir was bright and her words crisp. She quickly shoved her feet into borrowed boots that resulted since I could not judge the size of five year old feet correctly. She clumped out the door.
My father and a paper bag followed her back inside a short time later. “She could handle the clippers and everything,” Grandpa smirked. The apples were shuffled to the back porch to keep them from softening. But, too soon the apples were forgotten for nougat, chocolate and caramel. Each family visit brought another colorful bag or plastic bucket to be filled.
Candies unnamed and packages in letters unknown grew from enchanted forests, park trails and neighbors’ drawers. Ofir received candy and toothbrushes. I laughed silently at the social comment of that combination. I began a conversation with myself about sustainable food choices, chemicals, socially acceptable safety and admissible risk. How long has it been since we welcomed apples from neighbors? Since we trusted packing more than fresh produce? Each argument answered in a too extreme of two extremes. Candy. Toothbrushes. An apple, instead of both, needs neither.
As the days passed, each item remained untouched, and I lost track of lunch times. Why did it seem I was the only one who was hungry? My stomach growled, but I asked it to wait. I knew large meals were always coming, eventually. I was tempted. I snuck fingers in softly to reach into one of her candy bags hung on doorknobs. Guilt pressed into me so that I leaned back on the apple trees. Weakness.
I interrogated my own mistake. Did I need to place them on the counter? Why had no one offered? Why had Ofir not asked for something she loves? A lack of knowledge it existed even after picking the apples herself? Both the candy and the toothbrushes had been presented without asking. Both still nestled into plastic and cloth sacks. She had enjoyed the adventure, but Ofir hadn’t chosen yet.
The weekend in the middle of the weeks was the vacation inside the vacation. Everyone was away, except me. I had no responsibilities, save one, a dish to pass for the Halloween costume party. I offered to complete this task for one reason. The apples were still waiting, still saved, for something. Still, my task was interrupted. My family arrived home early to my counter spilled across with first apples barely cut. I held my breath and braced my lips against the cloud of cigarette smoke now trapped on the porch. Ofir watched me emerge with more apples. Then, she extended out an open hand as a silent request for her own apple.
“I do this,” Ofir offered with confidence.
A knife? I was not so confident. At work I was not even supposed to let ten year olds have knives. Ofir was half that age.
“Put the cut ones in the pan.” I instructed.
She began and I quickly fell behind. Maybe, she could do more? Maybe, I was the one restricting the choices.
“I’ll peel and you cut.”
She nodded. She cut. She could. Moreover, she was careful. And, she ate the apples with me.
Had I been too careful? Who made the rules? “Remember,” my brother had warned. “There is a peanut allergy.”
Yes. I understood, but I couldn’t guarantee what’s safe. Did flour have peanuts? Ofir called to me to play while clean up remained. I hurried through the tasks. I piled dishes in cupboards and dehydrated apples in jars. Even dried silhouettes of fruit might be underestimated. And, with all the effort, I didn’t know Ofir. I tossed away the skin and cores.
Short hours later dressed for the party, Ofir held out her arms. “I take,” she instructed. The apples had become hers. Was it better to prefer something alive? Like face to face, a relationship in person. I wished we could always serve and chomp simply apples on a plate together. Still, even cooked apples, dead fruit as Ofir’s mother called it, had flavor if you let them sit longer on your tongue.
Ofir was more capable than many children I met so far. The seeds we found flung in folded under packets broke through the carefully patted soil. Ofir knew how to create their home, even for a short time, even during an uncommon season. Ofir had watered and tested the seeds each of her mornings in her grandfather’s grandfather’s house. When she did not find the seeds she wanted, she found the forgotten garden vegetables in boots now sized to her own feet. Even in cold and fading light, she gave them new life.
In November there would be no uneaten candy, no extra toothbrushes on the bathroom sink. In November all the apples would be burned and squished into their sweetly seasoned deaths. Bittersweet. They would be gone. My family would be gone. When I missed their season, I would chew the crisped skins. In once empty jars, the thin sliver of what was left after I had stored each sliver became the surest way to fill my grandfather’s mother’s pantry’s space.
One more bag and one more costume. I chuckled at the irony of a final trick or treat during my family’s visit beginning at the farmer’s market. On that day I accepted the candy and toothbrush with the knowing smile and comfort the apple packed in my bag and Ofir’s hand outstretched. The seeds that had popped away from the knife. I never found them. I couldn’t be sure the which hands or mouths would carry their growth forward. How deep could the roots grow planted if Ofir was the one to inherit the apple trees?