There are four apple trees at the back of our property, lined up like dutiful soldiers. Sometimes I refer to them as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Other times I call them Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo. Depending on the season, they can also be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
When we bought our house in Ipswich, not so very long ago, I would not have known that these four trees were apple trees, because we had no such thing as apple trees in the desert, where I spent the previous two decades. (We had mesquite trees, which are judged not by the quality of their fruit, of which there is none, but by the sharpness of their barbs, which can cut you to the bone while you’re attempting to scoot under them to adjust your pool sprinkler.)
But during our Ipswich house-hunting expedition, the selling agent Ingrid Miles pointed out the four apple trees. They were planted in a prim and perfect row, almost certainly the result of a 1958 middle school science project.
Since the day we bought the house, I have learned that apple trees do not just give you apples, year after year, like mindless droids. Apple trees wax and wane. They give and they withhold. They are operating under some higher authority: maybe God, or the Ipswich Zoning Board of Appeals.
So three summers ago, our apple trees decided to go artsy. They sprouted blossoms. Wonderful! Beautiful! They were the Vincent Van Goghs of the tree world. Not a single apple, but plenty of lovely little flowers.
Summer before last, having rested up, our trees exploded with big, beautiful, juicy apples. Thousands of fabulous apples. The ground was like cobblestone, covered with fallen apples. Visiting deer made themselves sick gorging on apples — I saw a doleful doe holding a cool washcloth to the forehead of her puking fawn — and still there were apples. My daughter the apple-lover ate apples around the clock. We had apple pies, apple bread, apple cobbler. We used apples to make cake, chutney, fritters, turnovers. Apple crisp, applesauce, apple butter. Juice, cider. Candy apples. Apple-stuffed everything. I believe at one point we had creamy baked savory-sesame-bacon-onion-cheddar-caramel-mustard-chicken-apple-ginger-fennel-horseradish-slaw-sausage-crepe-sauerkraut fondue. We bought a fruit-drying contraption and learned to make apple chips. We had apple in our oatmeal. In our salads. In our meatloaf. We used apples for decorations. If we could have somehow turned them into fuel, we would have been set for the winter.
In desperation, we put out an all-call to our friends, pleading with them to come pick apples. We left a basket, a long-handled apple-picking tool, and a ladder propped outside our house, so any random stranger could come collect apples without an appointment any time of the day or night. I considered putting up a big sign on Linebrook Road: “Maybe you can’t pick your neighbors, but you CAN pick your neighbors’ apples. PLEASE.” Only one faithful friend, dear little Vicki Hughes from Poplar Street, came to our aid. She took away a mountain of apples taller than herself. And still we were drowning in apples.
Finally, this past summer, our temperamental trees for some reason decided to go Goth. All four of them produced the creepiest crop of apples in Ipswich history: black-splotched, misshapen little reddish blobs, their skins hideously cracked to reveal the soft, fleshy domicile of a legion of worms. Appallus domestica. Even the deer snorted and turned away.
This year, however, we have no apple problem. Our frightful fruits are being carted off, and it isn’t costing us a penny. We learned last week that our next-door neighbor’s two children, a kindergartener and his even-younger accomplice of a sister, have been slipping into our yard, snagging apples by the bagful, and proudly delivering these grotesque offerings — as their own family’s personal gifts — to all the homes on the street.
These children have come up with a beautifully perfect crime. They sneak, they steal, they lie — and ruin their parents’ reputation for classy gift-giving. But at the same time, the meadow is blissfully clear of apples. I love these kids. I hope next year to save the $50 curbside fee by getting them to handle my compost.