Monday, February 20, 2006

Urban Orchard

Urban Orchard

This leafless winter, a seven of nine stand of century old apple trees catches my eye as I drive to work. The spot where two trees should stand, in symmetry, is empty.
I wonder … what manner of plague broke this visual equilibrium. It bothers me that I may never know.

I could stop and ask at the house sitting easily next to this stand. A house separated by a partially paved driveway, two parallel patches of concrete, the style used to support the tires of a 1930 vintage car, but a tired experience within me tells me that this house is rented. The owners, distant relatives of the original inhabitants, great grandsons perhaps, themselves retired to Florida.

If I asked I would expect to hear that Great Great Uncle Frankie moved here from Boston in 1880 and built a farm that he was very proud of, had over 500 acres. This house was built in 1910 for Great Grandpa Joseph with ten acres that he bought from Great Great Uncle Frankie and paid for by working the farm and odd jobs around town.

Perhaps Great Grandpa Joseph cleared the land, or perhaps it was already cleared by a generation or two earlier. In any case Great Grandpa Joseph planted nine apple trees from the seed of treefall apples scavenged while working on Great Great Uncle Frankie’s farm in nine large red earthen pots that he inherited from Great Great Uncle Frankie.

When the apple trees were tall enough, about 3 tears old, Great Grandpa Joseph planted them where they now stand. Five or so years later, about the time Grandpa Timmy was born, Great Grandma Marie made the first of thousands of apple pies that became famous. So famous that Great Grandma Marie started baking apple pies commercially while Great Grandpa Joseph was away in the Great War.

“Marie’s Apple Pies” scrawled in popular commercial calligraphy became a familiar site in grocery stores all up and down the Middlesex Turnpike. When Great Grandpa Joseph came back from the War he bought a Ford truck, three actually, and started delivering “Marie’s Apple Pies” all the way to Boston. Pretty soon “Marie’s Apple Pies” were being baked in Lowell, Somerville, Laurence, Portsmouth, Nashua and, of course, in Billerica but not in Great Grandma Marie kitchen anymore.

By 1928 “Marie’s Apple Pies” were being baked in New York, New York, Chicago, Washington DC and Atlanta. “Marie’s Apple Pies” were famous. Great Grandpa Joseph and Great Grandma Marie moved to a mansion in Boston but kept the little house next to the Orchard because Great Grandpa Joseph liked to drive out to the country in his fancy Buick Roadster on weekends and needed a destination. The little house next to the orchard with nine apple trees was a perfect destination.

The Great Depression was a little hard on “Marie’s Apple Pies.” expansion plans for San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver had to be put on hold and the bakery in Manhattan was moved to Astoria Queens. Finally they had to sell “Marie’s Apple Pies” but they got almost 20 million for it.

Great Grandpa Joseph let his brother Great Uncle Thomas and his wife Vicky live in the house because Great Uncle Thomas was out of work and that was what you were supposed to so with your relatives who were down and out. Great Uncle Thomas died just before the war and you just couldn’t kick Great Aunt Vicky out could you? She stayed there until Grandpa Timmy, you remember him don’t you, came back from the war all banged up and needed a place to recuperate what with all the nursing he needed. Great Aunt Vicky moved to Florida with the help of some cash Great Grandpa Joseph gave her. No I don’t know what happened to her or her sniveling little brat Benny. They showed up one year and made total asses of themselves. We never heard from them again.

Grandpa Timmy, like I said, had been hurt real bad in the war and it took him a couple of years to get better. He married one of his nurses, Grandma Joan, and immediately had my mother who grew up in that house.  Grandpa died when my Mom was about 10 and, if it hadn’t been for Grandma inheriting lots and lots of money from Great Grandpa Joseph and Great Grandma Marie I don’t know what would have happened. Great Grandpa Joseph and Great Grandma Marie were killed in a car crash someplace like Florida I think. I don’t really know.

Grandma moved to Boston and rented the house. We still rent it. My sister and I inherited the house from Grandma along with her cash.  

How did the Apple trees die? I don’t know.

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