Uncut: apples


I’m waiting for them. They are usually here by June, the tree ripened granny smiths.

My farming brother and his overworked wife pick them, pack them and ship them, via their children, the university student and the scientist.

One year, around June, when I headed back to Israel to visit old friends, ex-wives and fast changing communities, I asked if I could take apples. The Israeli Embassy official said yes. So I did.

My brother found six of the biggest, yellowest, juiciest looking grannies you can imagine and I packed them in the middle of my case.

When we arrived at Danny’s house, north of Tel Aviv, I unpacked the six, showed him one, found a knife, cut it into neat quarters and asked him what he thought: “You know, Jonathon, when we worked together in the kibbutz, I thought the apples we grew were the finest, but you have proved me wrong, and I hate you for it.”

Then we laughed. And ate another one.

In an ideal world there would be peace in the Middle East and I would drive the long drive I know so well, down South West Highway, through Pinjarra, Harvey, Waroona, Dardanup, Donnybrook, Balingup and Greenbushes and pick the yellowing grannies myself.

And in another ideal world I would live there, under the trees, where I was born, raised and where I will be buried when my time ends.

My mother, who has now joined my father up high on the hill that overlooks the town, once confirmed that her favourite memories centred on our orchard life, back in the days when the entire family picked, packed and shipped.

Back then our Grandfather Roy made the apple boxes with jarrah slats and a rhythmic union of hammer and nail. He stood, bent over his workbench, a mouth full of nails and a hammer that seemed less wood and metal, more skin and bone extensions of his arm.

In the tiny shed built in one corner of our thirty acres of apples, peaches and plums, the family worked like Trojans, laughed like hyenas and exhausted themselves so folk in the Mother Country, England, could eat the very best apple that ever was and ever will be.

Mum and Gran were the packers and, boy, could they pack.

Into the box went the tray and in fluid movements you had to watch carefully to see, they brought an apple and a slip of tissue paper together, wrapped one in the other, and slotted each one into a vacant bed.

Before each grab for tissue they would lick their fingers and the youngest of us would sit spellbound, trying to catch a fault. I never saw one: finger lick, tissue, apple, wrap, box; finger lick, tissue, apple, wrap, box.

We couldn’t sit for long because somebody had to bring in the apples, and the some bodies employed were always us, the boys.

Early pickings were a hard slog, but the late run was a feast, because there is no finer apple on this planet, or any other planet I have been to, than the tree ripened granny smith. I would start one end, pick and eat, pick and eat, pick and eat, until my body screamed: “No more eating, stick with the picking.” And sometimes it would let me know in the traditional way a body does when it has too much of something.

But the memory that lingers clearest is of the day dad drove over a younger brother’s head.

It was early pickings, dad took a corner a little tight between two rows, the brother fell of the back of the tractor and under the trailer wheel. This was one time we thanked God for a lack of rain and the soft, powdery soil that allowed the brother’s head to sink under the wheel and come back up almost the same.

There were bruises and some swelling, but after mum had applied her legendary date and walnut cake poultice it soon went down and we all laughed our heads off until the neighbour’s cows went home.

Ah, the memories, and each and every year I sink my teeth into a Bridgetown tree-ripened granny, they flood back.

Every year but this one. Where are they, the student and scientist? Why have they forsaken me?

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