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There is something soothing and comforting when I realize my first recollection as a child is of apples and my father. I am convinced they are true memories because the emotions return to me as I recall the incidents. At age 50, I still feel them as when I was a child. I hope no amount of aging or experience will erase them. They are the basis of my love for Dad.
I was no more than two or three years old. My two older brothers and I had to be quiet during the day so Dad could sleep. He worked night shifts at North American Aviation in Kansas City as part of the war effort, and he slept during the daylight hours. We didnít see him a lot. We went to bed before he left for work, and he was asleep when we awoke in the morning. The late afternoons and early evenings with Dad around were special for me, but probably difficult for him. He and Mom didnít have much time together with their different sleeping schedules and contending with three busy sons. When we were all awake, however, Dadís attention was focused on the "boys".
Dad spent a fair amount of time with each of us during that period. Bill and Gary remember building castles and skyscrapers of wooden blocks. I remember the apples.
Fruit was difficult to obtain during the war, but Mom always had a peck of Jonathans stored in the cool, dry climes of the attic. We got to eat them only on certain occasions. I think Dad saved the apples not because they were a special treat but, by making the eating of them special, he created some peace and quiet in a normally noisy and hectic household.
Newspapers were spread on the floor in front of the sofa and Mom placed on them a paring knife and two or three medium-sized apples. We assumed positions in a circle. Dad sat on the center cushion of the sofa, Mom in a chair directly across from him, and Bill and Gary on his flanks. I got the prized place of all-- the cushion triangle formed between Dadís legs.
The object of the ceremony was simple enough. Cut and eat the apples without wasting any of the scarce commodity. But like the Japanese tea ceremony, the object was secondary to the love and sharing that goes into the exercise.
The peeling had to be removed in a very thin strip. But more importantly, it had to be removed in one, long, stem-to-flower spiral. He seldom made a mistake, but when he did, the apple never tasted as good as those peeled correctly. He sliced the peeled and cored apples into various sizes depending on the size of the recipient. As he nimbly worked the knife edge under the red skin, the room was quiet in anticipation.
To me the best part of the ceremony was not watching his skillful technique of holding the knife still and rotating the apple past the blade, nor the eating of the slices of sweetness. It was being within the confines of Dadís frame, my back supported by his stomach and his chin resting on the top of my head. I saw his sleeves rolled up, his bare elbows supported by his knees, as his hands steadily extracted the treasure inside the peeling. I placed my own hands on his bare forearms and felt his muscles flex and relax as he rotated the apple-- his arms surrounding me with a quiet strength through which no harm could possibly penetrate.
Sorrow and guilt also wove themselves into my feelings of security and joy-- a strange fabric. I felt sorry for Mom, who was not one of the "sofa sitters" and only got to eat the peelings so carefully removed so I would not choke on them. She deserved more than that. I loved her as much as I loved Dad, but she still got only the peelings. The guilt resulted from my unwillingness to trade my white slice for her red spiral.
Even now I enjoy eating just the meat of an apple, but seldom take the time to peel it. When I do, I still note the superior taste when the skin is removed in the proper unbroken strand, but I miss the family ceremony and the warmth and love generated by Mom and Dad. I hope I have given that quiet kind of security and love to my daughters. To travel through childhood without the love of your father, I suspect, is like an apple pie without the apples-- the shell is there but the treasure is not.
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