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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Marya of the Wood: Wildly Imperfect Apples

Wildly Imperfect Apples, Mj Pettengill
Wildly Imperfect Apples, Mj Pettengill

The apple trees in the horse pasture behind the barn of my childhood were abundant with wildly imperfect apples. They were never sprayed, and other than my sisters and me, no one bothered to pick them, let alone eat them.

Most apple trees are perfect for climbing; these were no exception. I found myself retreating to the safety of these trees throughout all of the seasons.

One of the first things I did when I drove through town over a decade ago was see if the apple trees were still standing. They were, and they are. My mother used to bother herself with whether or not I was eating too many apples. Of course, I was. My sisters weren’t as persistent with the apples as I was. They had other things to do. These trees were on the other side of the electric fence that contained the beloved horses, Babe and Prince. My fear of those horses was so profound; I had nightmares well into adulthood. They were a big deal. When they got loose, the entire town would shriek, “The horses are loose! The horses are loose!” The message made its way around the ring, and news traveled quickly in the center of the village. I would stop, wait for the sound of thundering hooves, find a safe place, and get out of the way.

Then there was the electric fence; my older sisters often dared me to touch it. A lot of their friends did too. I did once or twice, but I had nothing to prove, and it hurt, so I declined. They didn’t give up, trying to convince me that the throbbing electric pulse had diminished. They didn’t see their own expressions, or they wouldn’t have endured such escapades. One time, while sitting on my favorite branch, one of the older neighborhood boys, Will, said, “watch this.”

I never knew what to expect, but I always remained on my perch to observe. Will was gripping a fat green apple. Without notice, he threw it at Prince—the brown horse— hitting his hindquarter, causing him to rear and jump over the fence. They never seemed to go anywhere without each other, so the white horse took off too. In less than a minute, the shouting began; everyone knew that the horses were loose. I stayed in my safe place on the branch and ate another apple. Will hopped down and took off after the horses on his bicycle.

So, recently, when a local woman invited me to pick apples in her orchard, I was grateful. She explained that they were never sprayed and to expect that they would be small and with blemishes. “You mean as they are intended by nature?” I asked.

It was refreshing to visit a wild orchard overflowing with apples of various sizes and colors clinging to meandering limbs. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who liked it. There were birds’ nests of multiple shapes and sizes tucked into the crooks of the branches. I returned home with my basket and heart full to overflowing. There are so many possibilities with apples. I bit into one and winced at its tartness—the best for baking. It was small, and I hesitated, thinking of my mother scolding me for eating two.

But they’re small. Goldilocks, the earlier version of myself, thought in response.

I was grateful for my good fortune—wildly imperfect apples—I ate the second one and decided to make pies and can the rest for future merries. (Ballad of a Sandwich Girl —a memoir yet to be published.) Will's name is fictitious; if he reads this, he knows who he is.

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