Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Apricot Tree


Another essay I wrote for my comp class.
I was seven. It was late summer.  I was an only child and my parents and I lived in an old rental house in the suburbs of Wichita, Kansas.  It wasn't exactly “country” I suppose, but compared to the only experience I could remember – that of living on an Air Force base in Germany – it was rural enough.  I spent my days climbing trees and playing in a tree house my dad had built for me: two pieces of leftover paneling nailed onto parallel branches.  The dirt on those dirt roads was fine, like no dirt road I've been on since. It felt soft to my bare feet.
Our house had marvelous, climbable trees all around it. The field on the other side of our driveway was a wonderland. That's where my treehouse was. 
If I wasn't careful, in the summer, I'd wander into that field barefoot and be ensnared in the thorns we called ”stickers.”  They'd be everywhere, and they'd get all over my feet until I was trapped and couldn't move without pain. That was the only unpleasantness of those days though.
There was a little yellow house just up the road from us, owned by the same landlord that rented us our large, gray two-story house that was cheap because of the termites.  One summer it was unoccupied, so the yard was just an addition to my usual playground.
In the front yard of this little house, there was an apricot tree, with branches enticingly low. The apricots had become ripe and were falling on the ground.  I climbed that tree and ate apricots until I was bursting.  I remember clearly the sweet flavor, how the juice rolled off my chin and had to be licked off my fingers. Those days were paradise, and I was strong and free.
I move ahead in my mind to a time eleven years later. I was eighteen and staying with some friends in a little house just down the wash from an old mining ghost town named Jerome, in Arizona. My friends slept late and I woke up early and walked up the dirt backroad to town alone, hoping to get breakfast in one of the little cafes that catered to the tourists and the bikers.  The walk up the mountain was just strenuous enough to build a real appetite by the time I reached the paved road and vertically-designed houses and shops of Jerome.
Much to my dismay I'd forgotten the truth of a small tourist town: nothing opens until ten a.m. I'd woken up way to soon and was starving, walking the empty streets of the most beautiful place on Earth.
The road snakes up the mountain and doubles back upon itself.  Between one level of the road and another are the houses, some four stories tall. The road is so steep that a house may have a door opening on the ground floor, onto a lower level of the street, and another door opening onto the upper street, four stories above. If the mountain were a tree, the houses would be treehouses nestling among its branches, with ladders going from one level to the next, instead of stairs.
City Hall is accessed by concrete steps that wind up past a small park, which is also formed of steps, with green grass and trees and concrete retaining walls holding it up.  One level below City Hall, accessed by broken steps with an iron banister, there grew an apricot tree.
It was late summer, and the fruit was ripe and rich and falling to the ground.  I devoured apricots until I couldn't hold any more.  I think nothing had tasted as good ever before, or ever would again.
Looking back from fifty, I remember the delicious abandonment of those times. I recall the power of my dreams and the way the future was wide open.  Today I sit in the basement of the old house where I live with my husband and my mother-in-law.  I am not alone any more, and the future seems now to hold more limits than possibilities.
And yet, in the backyard is a tiny apricot tree. It's too small to climb, even if I still could. It's too young to bear fruit.  I don't know if apricots will flourish in our North End home.  I hope with all my heart that they will.

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