Friday, October 18, 2013

My favorite fall memories (and if I die of cancer before I’m 40, this is probably why)

The signs of fall take a little longer to show up in this part of California. October brings warm days and cooler nights, a little bit of color change in the trees, and pumpkin flavored everything. (Can we all just please agree that not everything tastes good in pumpkin flavor? Pumpkin lattes, yes. Pumpkin milkshakes, no thank you.)

The real key sign of fall in my neck of the woods is the emergence of the local high school marching band. The football field is directly behind our house, so I have long list of things I want to shove down that damn tuba, starting with the kid playing the tuba. And the drummer who apparently knows only one beat. And the football game announcer. And the school’s entire sound system. (And must the band practice after 9pm? Really?)

Photo credit: Flicker Creative Commons
All these signs of fall do make me a bit nostalgic though. Growing up in Michigan, my grandparents had a small apple orchard. (Yes, an apple orchard on a busy road in the middle of Flint, down the street from the high school. It was awesome.) They had a two-family farm house, and my parents and I lived in the upstairs unit until I was in second grade. Almost every kind of apple you can imagine grew on the property, and every autumn,  my Grandma Ola sold apples by the bushel from our front porch. As summers came to a close, traffic would start slowing down in front of our house as drivers craned their necks to see if the apples were out yet.

As a kid, I loved helping my Grandpa Ruben take care of the apples. He would hook up my little red wagon behind the huge tractor and pull me around the orchard while he sprayed the trees.

Wait. WHAT??

Yes, you read all of that right. Let me break it down.

A simple little red wagon, the kind with the wooden sides that slip in and out. A small child sitting inside. Being pulled behind a huge tractor, attached with a rope and some knots. Over bumpy terrain. As the tractor driver sprayed pesticide into the trees while the child breathed it in. I can still smell it.

Ah, it was a different time.

You’re probably appalled right now, but it’s one of my favorite childhood memories. Blissfully unaware of the dangers, I would freely sing songs I made up at the top of my lungs because I knew grandpa couldn’t hear me over the roar of the tractor (which, now that I think about it, was another safety hazard). I liked how the bumpy ride made my voice vibrate and teeth chatter, how the breeze loosened hairs from my ponytail and tickled my face.

I can still see my view from the red wagon – grandpa’s back sitting atop that giant old tractor in his white t-shirt and mesh cap, the massive rear wheels rising up, their deep treads chewing up grass and dirt, the sunbeams flashing like a strobe light through the leaves as the trees whizzed by.

I have lots of great memories of my Grandpa Ruben, who passed away six years ago. My last memories of him are from the hospital, where he looked thin and frail in his bed, yet still telling jokes and making the nurses laugh.

Even now, almost thirty years later and across the country, whenever I bite into a Red Delicious or Granny Smith, I’m five years old again – climbing apple trees to the tippy top, watching deer eat apples that had fallen to the ground, and grandpa’s big smile as looked back at me over his shoulder from atop that old tractor.