(Memoir Excerpt #6)
As we pulled up onto the long gravelly road, morning hadn’t even broken yet. A scraggly unshaven man in his 40s popped out the side door and greeted us. He was holding a couple of large canvas bags, “Let me show you around”.
We followed him through a maze of large leafy trees and down a mile long row of empty red wooden crates waiting to be filled.
“This is the section of apples you’ll be picking.” He pointed to two ladders already set up. “Once you fill the crate, pull off half the tag” he showed us how it worked.
“At the end of the day hand in your tags to get paid, you get $15 a crate.”
“How long does it generally take to fill one?” I asked looking at the massive empty box.
“Some of the regular pickers fill about one an hour.”
I started doing the math in my head. Not bad.
The first hour we spent figuring out how to put on the canvas picking bags and walk up and down the ladders without falling. They were like wearing oversized backpacks that hung in front of you but were structured with thick metal rods (to keep their shape). It was tricky to balance as I climbed up and down the ladder, especially once it was full of apples. Plus, because I’m so short, my knees banged into the metal rods every time I took a step.
We quickly learned that apple picking was hard work!
From the highest rung of the ladder I could see the entire orchard and all of the other pickers. Each picker seemed to have their own section. The trees were so full you couldn’t see where one row ended and the other one started. The backdrop of the lush rolling hills and peaceful baby blue infinity sky were calming. Through the foliage I could spot the pickers on the tops of their ladders. I counted them. Seven. We were by far the youngest. I balanced on the ladder pretending to twist the apple stems as I watched how they worked, looking for tips. There was a wrist movement they shared, quick twist, sharp pull. They moved very quickly. I noticed some of them wore headphones, they were in the groove.
By 1p.m. we were already wiped.
“How are you guys doing over here” It was the man from this morning coming to check up on us.
“We’re good” It had been six hours and we had only filled 4 crates. He could see we were tired.
He pulled an apple off the tree and took a bite. “Have you tried one yet?”
I hadn’t. “I didn’t know we were allowed.”
“Yeah, have as many as you’d like! I usually take a few home to make a pie too.”
My mouth started to water as he walked away. I was starving. We had eaten the leftover sandwiches for breakfast but didn’t have anything left for lunch.
I reached for an apple.
I polished it on my shirt. I twirled the stem and counted letters to see what the first letter of the man I would marry would be. A, B, C, ah screw it, I wrapped my mouth around it and crunched down.
That first apple was the most delicious thing I had ever tasted in my entire life.
We ate apples all day long that afternoon. Right off the tree. We lounged in the sun eating apples. We compared apples, we became connoisseurs. Did the ones from the highest branch taste the same as with ones lounging in full sun? We needed to know. Apple after apple they were all the crunchiest, juiciest most delicious apples in the whole wide world.
“Oh my god, I’ve never had anything like this” I squealed.
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