Saturday, March 17, 2012

Apple Tree

When I was little, we had an apple tree in our back yard. A lot of my memories of that time center around that tree.

When I was supposed to be taking naps, a lot of times I would go to the window of my bedroom and look down on the branches of the tree, and through them into the yard and street below.

In the spring the branches were full of pale pink blossoms. The sun shone through the petals and make the entire tree glow - I used to think it was the most beautiful thing in the world.

In the summer the branches were full of green leaves, but I could see through the gaps quite well. I remember seeing friends riding bikes down the street, or playing in their yards. I remember my downstairs neighbor and friend, Timmy, talking to his cool uncle, who was probably in his middle teens at the time. One summer while I was watching during naptime, Timmy fell out of the tree and broke his arm. His cousin carried him, crying pitifully, through the yard and into the house, and I was pretty scared until I saw Timmy later with a cast on his arm. Then I was a little bit jealous, because he got to boss the rest of us around for a couple weeks. I was usually the one who got to choose the games we played!

During the summer the apples started to bud and grow from tiny marbles into full sized fruit. I would peer at the apples and think of what would come when they ripened...

Once the apple blossoms had fallen, we would use the lower branches to boost ourselves up and climb up as high as we could go. When that happened, we would settle ourselves into the crooks of the branches and play all sorts of games of Pretend. Sometimes the tree was a Pirate Ship and sometimes it was the towers of a mighty castle. Sometimes we were mysterious international spies, and we would report to each other the dangerous activities going on in the cars passing on the street below. Sometimes we were birds nesting in those branches, and sometimes we were dragons waiting to pounce on unsuspecting villagers. Whatever we did in those branches was always magical and always lots of fun.

In the autumn the apples would finally begin to fall to the ground, which was a sign that they were ready to be collected. We would climb into the branches and collect the red apples, and bring them to my mother. They were too sour to eat as is, but my mom would make the most wonderful tart Apple Pie in the world for dessert. Some nights we would be very lucky and at dinner time she would cut the apples into large chunks and mix them into dough, and then drop them by spoonfuls into the pan of hot oil on the stove until they fried into golden Apple Fritters.

Later in the autumn the leaves of all the trees up and down the street would turn colors - brown and orange and yellow and red. When that happened we knew that winter would be coming soon, and the branches of the apple tree would soon be bare.

In the winter, the branches of the apple tree were covered with ice and snow, and that is when it was easiest to see what was happening in the world beyond my own little back yard. I missed being able to play in the branches, but I knew that soon it would be spring again, and I'd be starting a new year of busy-ness with my fruitful friend!

Parents and Children

We know our parents in one way when we are children, in another way when we are youths, and yet we do not truly know and understand them until we are well into adulthood, if we ever understand them at all. It takes many decades for us to see them clearly and with compassion as the complex and sometimes contradictory human beings that they are, because we need time and maturity in order to see them through the lens of shared experience.

When we are children, we see our parents through the lens of our own needs. Because we are fragile and cannot fend for ourselves, we are entirely dependent on our parents and so need to believe in their strength and wisdom, no matter how flawed those things might be to the less biased eye.

When we are young adults, we recognize how vulnerable we have been, and resent the flaws in our parents that kept them from meeting our past needs and keep them from meeting our current desires. Both parties long for the days when the child believed wholeheartedly in the strength and wisdom and love of the parent, and both resent the loss of the pedestal the parent formerly occupied, even as both recognize that there
was a great deal of illusion involved that was bound to be dispersed sooner or later.

The worlds of theatre and childhood share a similar dependence on the willing suspension of disbelief, and neither is improved by the cold light of day.

Still, as youths we remain protected from many of the rougher aspects of life, by our parents and by society at large (if we are lucky). We are free of the burden of housing and feeding ourselves, we are free of the responsibility towards others that becomes so compelling as we build our own nests. We may fear abandonment, but we don't fear for our survival. We can indulge in idealism and judge our parents by pure and relatively untested theory, measuring them against the yardstick of What Should Be.

Few of us measure well against that particular yardstick.

For one thing, the adult world is made up nearly entirely of Compromise, and to the youthful eye, Compromise bears a striking resemblance to Hypocrisy. To the middle aged eye, it sometimes bears a striking resemblance to Failure; that dream-filled and critical youth still lives deep inside us, for whom we bear a sense of nostalgia, sympathy, and a certain degree of ironic condescension. That youth can be a loud and unforgiving audience to our lives. Finding happiness in adulthood often requires us to find some sense of peace with the gap that develops between the dreams and beliefs of our youth and the realities of our later years.

What I hope for you is this:

That you can forgive your parents for being sometimes selfish, neglectful, foolish, harsh, unthinking, critical, forgetful, impatient, and otherwise human and flawed.

That you can forgive yourself for being likewise.

That you can remember that most people - including your parents, your grandparents, your friends and yourself - do the best they can with what they know at a given time. Sometimes what we think we know is incomplete or just plain wrong. Sometimes the experiences of our past get twisted in our heads, and teach us lessons that damage us and hurt those we love, that lead us to behave in a way that is against our own interests and against the interests of those around us.

But in spite of all that, we mostly stumble on, doing the best we can. You shouldn't let people hurt you repeatedly, you have the right to protect yourself from even inadvertently inflicted harm, you should love and protect yourself as much as you love and protect your friends and family. But maintaining a stance of compassion and understanding towards yourself and others will help you set aside the burden of bitterness that poisons life, and will allow you to step forward with hope and love and appreciation.

I hope you will remember this throughout your lifetime: your parents love you more than life itself, and they always will. That love is a given, a bedrock on which to build your life. You are lovable, and you are loved.


Remember that growing up is not all about making the Right decisions. Nobody gets to make all the right decisions; we all make weird turns or suddenly run up against walls, we all get lost sometimes. Growing up is about figuring out how to deal with the decisions we have made.


When I was little, my mom used to fix up baskets for Buff and I. She filled them with clear green plastic 'grass', and then get out the Paas easter egg dyes.

The Paas easter egg dyes came with a little copper wire 'dipper', a number of colored tablets, and some punch-out cardboard strips printed with grass and flowers or bunny faces or other spring/easter themed illustrations. The strips were designed so that you could arrange them in a little circle that worked as a sort of stand for some of your eggs. There was also a cardboard sheet with holes cut in, which theoretically would allow you to stand your eggs in it to dry, but which we didn't like to use because the eggs would end up with bits of cardboard hardened and dried onto them, and because the cardboard edge would rub a pale ring around the bottom part of the egg.

My mom would hard boil some eggs, and then fill up custard cups with vinegar and warm water, and then add one tablet to each cup. The tablet would release the dye, and then we could color our eggs by dipping them in the various colors. Some eggs we would dip partway in one color and then partway in another, some eggs we would layer by dipping in one color after another. Over time, as we dipped eggs into one color and then another, the dyes got muddier - but in some cases they also got more interesting and intense than the original primary color dyes. Sometimes these more complex colors would 'break' on the egg, so that the egg seemed to be one color with another color or two speckled onto it, as though it had been airbrushed. These were my favorites.

After each egg was dyed, we would put it on a folded white kitchen towel, which would end up with bright spots of dye all over it when the eggs would dry.

Once the eggs were dry, we would choose which ones would get the cardboard bands, and then we would nestle the eggs into our baskets and put them in a special spot for the Easter Bunny to find. The next morning we would find some special treats in our basket - there might be little toys, and usually there was a few larger candies - often a hollow chocolate rabbit and some chocolate-covered marshmallow rabbits and/or eggs. Once or twice we got large spun-sugar eggs that were hollow and had a decorated hole on one end, and when you looked inside there was a little candy scene inside. These eggs were no good to eat, really, but they were very pretty, so I really liked them and would keep them for quite a long time.

But my favorite part was that every Easter morning we would race around trying to find all the shiny little foil-wrapped chocolate eggs that the Easter Bunny had hidden everywhere. There were eggs under the couch, on top of picture frames, inside the stereo cabinet, behind books in the bookshelf, inside flower vases, tucked behind paintings, hidden beneath the wax fruit in the bowl... you never knew where you might find those special easter treats.

We would collect all the eggs in a pile on the table, so that we could split them fairly after our hunt was over, and somehow mom and dad knew when we needed to keep looking... usually. Every once in a while I would find a stray egg hidden in some odd place long after Easter had come and gone. I suspect that Buff occasionally had the experience, but neither of us was silly enough to tell the other one - after all, how could two people share one little tiny chocolate egg?


When you were little, you had problems with your blood sugar, so a lot of chocolate or candy eggs were not a possibility for you. So mostly the Easter Bunny hid plastic eggs with small toys and Legos inside, and there would be a bigger toy left in your Easter Basket. Luckily you found this just as exciting as Buff and I found those chocolate eggs.

But some things stayed the same from generation to generation - we still went to grandma's house and had a wonderful time using Paas dyes to make easter eggs, and happily tucked them into your special basket!