You know when you share something you love with someone you love only to find they don’t love it the way you do? Or, even, at all? I’ve been on the receiving end of this equation frequently. It happens every time my 12 and 10-year old kids show me something on Youtube.
“Isn’t this hilarious?” they’ll ask, peering over at me expectantly.
“Uh huh,” I’ll reply, trying to simulate a smile. “Funny.”
But really I am thinking, “Is the damage done to my children’s brains from this onslaught of insipid garbage reparable?”
I love my kids but I do not always love what they love. YouTube clips just aren’t my thing.
Recently, I was on the other end of this equation.
Recently, I took my grandmother apple picking.
Apple picking, to my mind, is far less objectionable than YouTube clips. In fact, it seems totally unobjectionable. What’s not to love about apple picking?
The orchard is beautiful. It smells good. You get all the benefits of nature, without having to get too dirty or exhausted, without incurring a lot of expense or doing much preparation. It’s Nature Lite, which is always my preference. And then, of course, there’s the apples. Who doesn’t love sinking their teeth through the taut skin of a perfectly tart Mutsu, newly plucked from its branch?
My grandmother, as it turns out.
It’s not that my grandmother doesn’t enjoy chomping into a nice Mutsu. She’d just prefer it if the Mutsu was eaten first.
My grandmother, Nonny, lived through World War ii, in Italy. This experience has made her averse to several things, not the least of which is wastefulness. It’s one of her defining characteristics — that, her obsessive cleanliness and her addiction to Dr. Phil.
Instead of the ubiquitous parental refrain, “Children in Africa are starving!” in my house, when you didn’t finish your food, you heard, “During the war, we woulda killed for dis rotten tomato!”
My grandmother eats leftovers, exclusively. Consequently, she doesn’t eat meals with us. She waits until we leave, takes stock of her leftovers and feasts on rejects. I can’t be sure because I’m not privy to this part, but I believe that in addition to her enjoyment of the food, there’s an added sense of purpose she feels, not unlike a solider in combat. She is, in a way, a soldier, waging a one-woman war against waste.
I didn’t forget this about Nonny when I invited her apple picking. It’s not something you can forget. It’s like forgetting that Dora’s an explorer or that dogs have fur.
What I’d forgotten is that apple picking is pretty much an exercise in waste.
It was mid-October, and we piled into the car early, positioning Nonny in the backseat with the kids. This is the only seat she will accept, Within an hour and a half, we were pulling through the orchard gate. Spirits were high, though – it’s worth noting – not infection. t
“Isn’t it beautiful?” I asked Nonny.
“Sure,” she said shrugging. She did not look displeased, which, sometimes, is the best you can hope for with grandmothers.
We decided our plan of attack while looking for a parking space. First, Mutsu, if there were any left. Then Empires, Macintoshes and Red Delicious, for my husband. I find Red Delicious apples pedestrian but permissible. Jonagolds, or any other variety of Golden Delicious apples, on the other hand, is where I draw the line. I’d rather eat a pear.
My kids bounded out of the car and sprung into Turbo Picking mode while I helped Nonny out of the backseat.
“Be careful!” I warned Nonny as she stepped out. “The ground is covered in apples – it’s slippery.”
She looked down to the carpet of rotting apples underfoot, so many apples it looked more like a monochromatic ball pit than a grassy knoll. She gasped audibly.
“Whadda heck is dis?”
“Oh, it’s always like that,” I reassured her. “The apples fall and they rot or whatever.”
My 10-year-old daughter had, by then, already yanked an apple, taken a bite and was hurling it as far as she could over our heads.
“This tree’s no good!” my daughter announced. “Keep moving.”
“Whaddaya doin’?” Nonny shrieked. “You take-a one bite and trow it away?”
“No, No, Nonny, it’s okay,” I clarified. “That’s what you do. You taste the apples, but you don’t eat the whole thing.”
I’ve always enjoyed this part of the picking, because it makes me feel like Ramona Quimby, when she hid in her basement and took one bite out of all those apples. The first bite is the best. You can’t argue with that.
By the time I’d finished explaining the apple tasting system to Nonny, my daughter had already tasted, and discarded, a handful more apples. With every apple abandoned, my grandmother grew more apoplectic, Apple-plectic, if you will.
“Gimme da apples!” she ordered. “I gonna finish dem.”
So we did. We’d take a bite then pass them to Nonny. She ate as fast as she could. But there were many of us and only one of her. Soon, her hands were full of once-bitten apples. Soon, she started to look a little nauseous.
“Stop eating all the apples,” I warned her. “You’re going to get sick.”
“You wanna me to waste all de apples? Come on!” she said, her voice full of disgust.
Several times, I caught her picking apples up off the ground and polishing them on her shirt.
“Nothin’a da matta wit dis one!” she protested.
The kids were happy.
David and I were happy.
Nonny, not so much.
“Nonny, isn’t this fun?” I asked.
“Okay,” she replied, not able to mask the pained expression on her face.
We ate our picnic lunch — cold cuts piled on Italian bread. When asked what kind of sandwich she’d like, my grandmother replied, “Gimme what nobody else wants.”
After a few hours, we loaded everyone in the car, and heaved the massive, bulging bag of apples into the trunk.
“So, what’d you think?” I asked Nonny, turning around to face her.
“Very nice,” she said, but any fool could see it had been a trial. She doesn’t simulate smiles. It’s the prerogative of the over-80 crowd.
“And look at all the apples we got!” I continued, not one to give up easy.
“Please!” she protested. “No more apples! I neva wanna see anotha apple as long as I live!”
Not only had Nonny not enjoyed our excursion but, I realized, it was entirely possible that I had ruined apples for her, forever.
From now on, the only place I’m taking Nonny apple picking is the supermarket.
Nicole C. Kear is the author of THE FIX-IT FRIENDS (Macmillan Kids), a chapter book series for children. You can find books 1 through 4 in bookstores now, and more info on FixItFriendsBooks.com.