Part 39: Apple Festival
Stepping outside, we noticed there were now more people in the orchard. The afternoon seemed to have brought out the pickers. Cars and trucks were parked at the side of the path that led to the country store and it looked like the whole community had come out for the fun. Deciding to get us a drink from the store and find out just what was going on, we headed down the path. Passing by families, couples, and even the fortune teller from the day before, everyone seemed friendly. For a moment I got the impression everyone we passed by knew who we were. Being a small community I could understand the familiarity, but it made me feel a little strange, as if suddenly we were a couple on display for everyone’s consideration. Any minute I expected people to start holding up placards with scores on them. Summer must have felt it too, as she clutched my hand and whispered, “Maybe you should have dressed me in a monk’s robe.”
I laughed. “You’d still look hot.”
We didn’t see any of the migrant workers out. They must have been given the day off, but there were still plenty of people in the orchard, going up and down the rows in groups trying to find the best apples. Smaller groups of children ran and played, and as we passed by a pickup at the side of the trail we noticed someone had set up a rocker in the bed. An elderly gentleman was rocking back and forth with a smile on his face.
“So, this is what they do for weekend entertainment,” I suggested.
A group of teenagers were going by and must have heard me. “No,” one of them said, a girl of about sixteen with hair the color of sunshine. “That’s tonight. The street party.”
“Yeah, they block off the road on that far end for live music and stuff.”
“Cool,” Summer said. “What kind of music?”
“Blues, country, southern rock.” The girl’s friendly smile turned into a proud beam. “My boyfriend’s band is playing. “
“Where do they set up and play?” I asked.
“Right up there in front of that house.”
She was pointing up at Orchard House.
The country store was packed. if we thought we were going to hear the rest of Helen’s story today, it didn’t look like it was going to be happening. We managed to maneuver our way to the cold case and grab us some crème soda and root beer. We held hands the whole way, not because we wanted to show our affection, but so we wouldn’t lose each other in the crowd. As I reached into the cold case, something caught me by surprise. Jackson, the dog from Orchard House, was lying right beside it, probably cooling off from the outdoor heat.
“Well, hey there buddy,” I said, reaching down to pat his head. He rolled over so I could rub his belly too. As Summer leaned over to pet him, a squealing voice from the back of the store announced a fresh batch of lemonade was made. Peering through the crowd, I could see Twyla at her table, standing on a wooden crate like a barker at an auction taking orders for her sugary concoction. She saw us both and waved excitedly. Throwing up our hands to wave back, we heard someone come up behind us. Stepping out of the way to let them pass, we noticed it was Raymond, carrying a basket of golden apples. He smiled, recognizing us.
“Well hey, there you are,” he said. “We was wondering if you’d come out for the apple festival.”
“Ah, so this is what is going on.”
“Yep. Have it every year. Everybody loves it, as you can see. Helen’s over there somewhere if you want to holler at her.”
He moved off, continuing with his business, and from the looks of things he definitely was having a busy day. I heard a loud noise outside. Summer pointed to a huge tractor that had just started up. An open flatbed covered with hay was hitched to the back and kids were climbing on as it started to pull off into the orchard. We moved towards the front counter to pay for our drinks. I don’t think either one of us did well with crowds. We just wanted to get to some wide open place again.
We had to wait about ten minutes before we could set our drinks on the counter and pay for them. Helen looked up from her register and the smile that crossed her face threatened to light up the whole room.
“Well, there’s my favorite couple,” she announced.
“Yes, here we are,” I replied, a proud smile on my face as Summer held my hand.
Helen raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Ah, so finally you believe me! Ready to admit what your hearts can’t deny.”
Summer smiled. “Yes, we’re guilty.” She glanced at me and then added, “Big time guilty.”
Helen clapped her hands in delight. It didn’t take much to figure out what had occurred between Summer and I. Even the blazing sun can’t make people glow like that. “Isn’t orchard House wonderful?” the woman exclaimed. She gave us both a wink. “I fell for my Raymond up there myself.”
I got out my money as she rang up the sodas. “That reminds me,” I said, handing her a couple of dollars. “We’re still due a continuation of the story from the other day.”
“I would really love to tell it, but it’s crammed busy today. And we are closed on Sunday. Maybe Monday if you want to stop by.”
“Well actually, I wanted to ask you something.”
She handed me my change. “Ask away.”
“I don’t think I told you, but I’m a writer and I was coming up here to get away and write a book, but I couldn’t quite figure what to write about in the beginning. So I was wondering if you would mind if I wrote about Hope and Gunboats?”
“That’s awful flattering. Never thought their story was book material, but maybe there’s some folks like to read that kind of thing after all.”
“Is that okay?”
“Well son, I’m really not the one to be asking.”
Oh,” I replied. “I just thought since they were your parents, you were the one to give me the okay.”
“I could, but you should just ask them yourself.”
“Ask them myself?”
“Yeah, they live on the other side of the orchard. You can’t see their place because of all the trees, but they got a little house over there. The old home place got too big for just them.”
“I’m sorry, I thought they were deceased being their story took place during the war and all. And you said the ring came back to her before the body did. “
She laughed. “You liked that, did you? Maybe I should be a writer too?”
I smiled. “Yes, maybe you should.”
I opened my soda and took a sip. “You want to call and tell them to expect me?”
“No phones on that side of the field. Just walk on over. I’m sure they would love to meet another orchard couple.”
“Cool. Okay, we’ll do that.”
Helen looked at Summer. “Your outfit is so cute. You’re the prettiest flower in the wild.”
“Thank you, Helen, but he dressed me.”
“Oh well! I can almost hear the bells then.” She grinned. “Let’s see you deny that, young man…”
Heading out of the country store, we ran into Raymond again. He was taking what was probably a much deserved break. Sitting in a wooden chair out front, he was enjoying some of Twyla’s lemonade and nodding to customers who crossed his line of sight. He saw us and smiled. “Hey, you folks going to the party tonight?”
“Well, I guess so since it’s in front of the house.”
Summer nudged me and I realized it came off sounding a bit rude.
“But I’m sure it’s going to be fun,” I added.
“Yes sir, it is. I was thinking we probably forgot to mention it to ya. We get so excited about the Apple festival it slipped our minds someone would be staying there. Hope the loud music don’t bother you. It’s a little ways from the house, down the hill out front right before it meets the road. There’s a little amphitheater we made, got about ten long benches in front of a little stage. We first built it for family get-togethers, but then the street party idea came along.” He smiled. “Now people just stand out in the road and dance. It’s quite a sight.”
“I bet it is. Sounds like a little bit of the city coming to the country.”
“Well, that’s about as city as we get,” he said with a laugh.
“Good. I was trying to get away from the city myself.”
“Don’t blame you none.” He got up and stretched his legs. “I guess we’ll see you there then?”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
The big tractor came pulling into the parking lot again. It was now empty except for the hay. As soon as it stopped more people came out from the store and got on. I turned to Summer. “Want to hitch a ride home?”
She looked at the truck bed. “Yeah sure. Why not?”
We jumped on board with the rest of them, and as the tractor pulled off to head up the Orchard path, I put my arm around her. She leaned against me with a happy contented sigh. If you had told me on Monday I would be riding on the back of a truck bed in an apple orchard with a beautiful country girl, I would have laughed at you. I guess it just goes to show that when you’re out of your element, expect the unexpected.
When the tractor got close to the house, we bailed out. We landed on our feet, sodas still intact, despite the fact the tractor hadn’t stopped. Some of the other riders cheered and clapped at the two romantic daredevils, and in a gesture of complete silliness I curtsied and Summer bowed.
“So, want to go see Hope and Gunboats?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? Of course I do. I loved Helen’s story. It’s killing me to know what happened.”
“Let’s go see then. She said it was on the other side of the orchard. I figure we’ll just walk in a straight line from our place and hopefully we’ll get there.”
“Sounds like a plan, Matty. Ready when you are.”
So we headed across the orchard, down the rows and past all the pickers who were still filling up their baskets and bags. Eventually, we left them behind as we headed into a part of the orchard I remembered from our streaking event the night before. We jumped over a ditch and I remembered chasing after Summer’s naked frame in the dark.
“I just thought of something,” I said. “What if last night we streaked right past their house in the dark?”
“Oh my god, I hope not,” she replied with a red blush to her cheeks.
It was the cutest thing ever.
“Orchard House And The heart Of Everything” 2016 Paul D Aronson.