Saturday, January 22, 2011

Only To The Next Tree

In the summers we went to the village where the streets, not only in song, but literally had no name.   
I loved the village.  The sky was bigger, the stars were brighter, and the air less stuffy and hot than the city.  In the evenings, when we went for a walk up and down the main street, we needed a light sweater which we draped over our shoulders.  I had cousins who lived there year round, who would be waiting for us to arrive after nine months of separation and the reunions were always fun.  One of my cousins told me recently that she used to go wait in front of our house just in case we came that day.

Many of the village families owned fruit orchards, mainly apples, but plums, apricots, berries and some vineyards too.  My great aunt liked to take me along with her to pick the best table grapes for family dinners.  Her long white hair braided into a bun and covered with a scarf, she'd put on her boots, grab a basket and we'd walk the 20 minutes to the vineyard.  She was a different person there among her other family.  She walked slowly, touching her precious vines, cutting off branches she found useless, cradling a bunch of grapes in her palm as if to judge their sweetness by their weight.  She'd teach me their names and what foods they went with best.  These are called "bride's fingers", she'd say putting a bunch of 2 inch long, golden grapes in her basket.  They were my favorites.  

One of the highlights of the summer for me was apple picking.  It was a well planned and organized event. The timing had to be coordinated with relatives and neighbors so they could help each other.  Everyone went.  All the ladders available were taken and all capable hands put to work. There was lots of playful banter and singing from the top of the trees.  Young people fell in love in those orchards and the uncles made fun of them, singing "I lost my heart under the apple tree".  The older ladies were responsible for the food and all kinds of delicacies were spread out for lunch.  We ate and then took a siesta in the shade of the trees before we continued to pick those apples ever so carefully, not to leave fingerprints on them, and arrange them gently in wooden crates.

The crates were loaded on small trucks that went around to all the apple pickers that day and helped carry their harvest to huge trucks waiting up the dirt road.  Some of the men would get impatient and start carrying the crates themselves maybe to show off their strong muscles to the ladies.  

One day, I decided I was strong enough to help but mostly I wanted to follow cousin Jack around; at 15, he was 4 years older than me and way too cool.  So I  lifted a crate, thought it was light enough, I could  do this, and followed the men.  At first, I showed determination and courage, but after several minutes, that narrow dirt path got longer and longer.  Angry red marks burned on my arms, my knees wobbled and some moisture appeared in my eyes.  Cousin Jack turned around and looked at me dragging behind and waited.  When I got to him, he suggested I wait right there, he would sprint to the truck, drop his crate off and come back for mine.  But I was too embarrassed, the men would laugh at me on their way back and that's when he said it:  See that next tree ahead of us?  We'll just walk to that tree.  Don't look at the truck, only at that next tree.  So we walked together and when we reached that tree, Jack and I walked to the next one, and just like that, one tree at a time, we conquered that dirt path.  I loved my cousin Jack.

I never forgot that.  Many times over the years, a voice in my head whispered, only to the next tree, darling.  I told the story to my growing sons enough times that they would say, yes mom, we know, only to the next tree.  Funny thing is I saw cousin Jack at a wedding a few months ago and he had no recollection of it.  He thanked me for the story though and said it will come in handy for him too on days he struggles with the dirt paths in this life.

* The photo is not mine.  I found it on the internet. Don't know whom to give credit.

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