Yesterday's Magazette

5 – Apples In The Sun

Apples In The Sun


17th Street kids with Mrs. Hanson, 1958, Sioux City, Iowa. Jean is in the front row, third from right. Little blond boy is her brother Steve. Mark is in second row, partially hidden by two girls.

By Jean Marie Reiners Johnson

Resting for a moment on the concrete step, my brother and I sat and gazed across the tree-lined street. The shade from the big elm cooled us under the hot sun, and a warm breeze blew a gum wrapper in little circles in front of us. The only sound was Mrs. Brennan clanking dinner pans in the downstairs apartment behind us.

I saw Mark’s bare chest heaving, and sweat ran down his temples. I braced my hand on the hot sidewalk. He braced his small sweaty hand on my knee. We’d just run from Mrs. Hanson’s house a half block away. We’d been busy playing hopscotch in the wide concrete alley next to her yard when we saw her blue eyes between the hollyhock stalks and ripe red tomatoes. We weren’t surprised by her presence; we knew she was there, as she often was, stooping to work in her garden. I thought of her warm cookies with chocolate melting in the middle as I glanced at her soft silver hair and heard her soft voice.

“Jean, I heard your Momma callin’ dinner.”

“Oh, shooot.”  I sighed a long breath and took my last hop of the day. “C’mon, Mark.”

Our bare feet slapped the gritty pavement all the way down the street, and our halt was too sudden, knocking our knees together before we slid onto the step. “Ouch . . . Lookit . . . .” we mouthed together. Every afternoon for days we’d stopped to see if the green apples were still hanging on the tree in the old man’s yard; and there they were, still shining brightly through the dappled sunlight of the tree branches. There was a blinding spotlight of sun under the apple tree where the mix of summer grasses nearly reached the bottom branch.

I’d been thinking about that bottom branch for days.

“Why doesn’t he pick ‘em?” Mark asked.

“I dunno,” I answered.

“Maybe he can’t reach ‘em,” Mark said.

“He has a ladder,” I replied.

“Oooh.” Mark drew out that word as though reflecting on what that meant.

“We better get in. Mom will be mad.” Mark and I rose slowly; our skinny, tanned arms swinging as we walked to the back door.

In my mind’s eye it was tomorrow, and I was already running through the tall grass of the old man’s yard.

Seemingly aware of my thoughts, Mark looked at me shyly, and asked, “Can I come, too?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said distractedly. He had a little smile on his face as we stepped inside.

Our family’s apartment was upstairs, and when the door slammed behind us, Mark sighed. “I’m tired Jean.” I reached out, as I had so many times before, took his hand, and made the long climb up the steep steps, to the kitchen door.

Later, that night, lying in my soft bed, crisp white sheets up around my nose, I noticed his eyes closing. “Mark, we’ll go in the afternoon. I think he sleeps then. Mmmm . . . the sheets were outside today, they smell good.”

“Aw, only babies sleep in the afternoon,” Mark said impatiently.

“No, he’s old––old people do, too. Just go to sleep.”

When the sunlight woke me Mark was still asleep. The white curtains touched the chenille bedspread, and the air coming in through the open window was already warm on my skin. The soft coo of turtledoves almost sent me back to sleep, and I smelled warm apples in the sun. Suddenly I remembered what day it was. I slid out of bed and walked quietly around the corner to Mom and Dad’s bedroom. No one was there. I opened the French doors and tiptoed to the window. Pushing the curtains aside I could just see the old man’s backyard through the big tree out front. Good, I thought, maybe he’s gone today. He’s usually in his garden working by now.

After breakfast Mark and I ran down the steps and skipped around the side of the house, but were disappointed to see that the apples had vanished in the morning light. Straining my eyes across the street, I saw two figures on the front porch of the white clapboard house. Mark pushed me onto the grass, and I quickly forgot about the old people. We lurched into a game of leap frog. By the time I looked again, they were gone.

The morning passed slowly. We ate our lunch in a daze. “What’s wrong with you two?” Mom asked.

“Oh nothing,” I said, pushing the soft white bread with my finger so the jelly and the peanut butter squished out onto my plate. I looked out the window and grabbed the drinking straw with my lip, blowing translucent bubbles into the creamy milk. The pink flamingoes on the glass looked like they were dancing on clouds.

Mark chewed his sandwich, despite having his hand planted firmly on his chin, and I watched grape jelly run down the side of his hand.

Mom stood at the sink drying dishes, and said nonchalantly, “Maybe we could walk to the store. Aunt Lorcy’s birthday is tomorrow.”

“No, we can’t!” Mark shouted, dropping his sandwich.

“But Mom, we already got her that pretty blouse,” I said nervously.

“Okay, fine; I just thought you were bored,” she said. “I have plenty to do.”

“Nope, we’re not bored. We’re gonna go see Norma’s new bike,” I quickly lied, wondering where that idea came from.

Mark jumped up from the table and headed for the door. “Wash your hands, please,” Mom cried.

I bolted from the table, and heard Mom’s quick “Hey, you,” behind me. I didn’t want to wash my hands; that was for little kids.

As I ran the down the steps I heard Mark’s trailing voice, “Waaait for me.”

“I’ll be out front,” I hollered over my shoulder. I giggled as I thought of him scurrying to catch up. Mark was my little brother, but I liked having him with me, even when he’d taken the stairs one at a time. My friend Karen said she didn’t like her brother, but I thought she was teasing.

The feathery grass scratched and tickled my thighs as we took our first step into the old man’s yard. Mark stretched out his arms and swept it away. It was almost up to his chest.  “Gosh,” I muttered to myself. The tree was bigger than I thought, and I felt discouraged at how high the bottom branch suddenly looked.

“What if he sees us?” Mark said nervously.

“He can’t see us,” I whispered. “Look at how far away the house is.”

The white house looked miles away in the afternoon light, and cast a long dark shadow that ensured protection, like a turret wall no one could breach.

“Can you smell the apples?” I asked, turning my head to survey the yard. “He has a big garden, doesn’t he? We can hardly see it from the house.” The garden was further back, and there was a shed, and another apple tree, which I had never seen.


Suddenly the tree was in front of us. I touched the bark, and Mark reached under my arm to touch it, too. Instinctively, I hugged it to evaluate its size against mine. A drowsy warmth overcame me as the sun found my face, and I inhaled the tree’s musty heat. When I looked up I saw the apples. There were bundles of them! My legs seemed to lose power at the sight and smell of them, and my eyes closed.  A gust of wind ruffled my blouse and tickled my exposed middle. When I opened my eyes, a spider web’s crystalline triangles hung in the sunlit air, and I saw the old man’s ladder against a distant shed.

“What are you waiting for?” Mark asked, reaching his arms as high as he could, as if trying to push me onto the outstretched branch.

Suddenly my arms and legs knew just what to do. I jumped up and grabbed the lowest branch, and my calloused feet gripped the scaly bark — and held. The muscles in my legs sprang into action, and moved me up the tree. The sudden acceleration enabled my arms to grab the branch, and the next thing I knew my soft warm stomach was against the tree’s hard scratchiness. My arms were warm and aching, and a sharp twig caught my thigh as my leg flew over the wide branch. An “Ow,” escaped my lips as I leaned forward to survey the yard through the leaves, and hoped the old man couldn’t see me. As I sat astride the branch I remembered riding Uncle Andy’s pony at the farm earlier this summer. “I feel like I’m riding a horse,” I shouted joyfully.

“Throw me an apple!” Mark shouted back.

I reached into the shimmering sunlight and touched a warm green gift of summer.

Mark jumped up and down as the apple sailed through the air towards him.

*Jean lives with her husband, Randy, in New Braunfels, Texas. She has worked as a newspaper reporter and consumer advocate. She enjoys genealogy, and is currently working on an ancestor’s Civil War history.

Vol. 37 No. 1 – Yesterday’s Magazette – Spring- 2010


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