Stealing Apples

Chrisdesign-Photorealistic-Green-AppleMany words has been written about growing up in a Catholic neighborhood during the 1950’s and most of those words were wasted. The entire experience can be collapsed into a single word: no.

We had a no for everything.

We had venial no’s to cover the minor stuff. These were the things that were mostly ignored because everyone got away with them all the time.

We had the mortal no’s to cover all the major stuff. These were the things that could ruin your life and hound you for eternity, so we deferred them until our teenage years.

But wedged firmly between the venial and mortal no’s were all the things you were not supposed to do but which were so utterly compelling, you just had to try to get away with doing them.

Like raiding apple trees.

Eating an apple was the original sin, or so says Genesis. But I don’t think so. After all, an apple is no big deal. What made it a big deal was that Adam and Eve snuck around and stole it – and in the 1950’s Catholic mind the thought of sneaking around and stealing anything fired every synapse into a flaming fury of NO!

Could you think of anything more compelling?

So there we were, Stan and I, the era’s two children most compelled to explore the region that lay beyond the word no. Before us glistened a chain-link fence and behind the fence a lush lawn stretched toward an apple tree with fruit so tart it could make you kiss your tonsils.

“Here is the plan,” Stan said, “you climb the fence, knock down a couple fresh apples and toss them out. I’ll be waiting here.”

Like all of Stan’s plan, something seemed a little off.

“Why don’t I wait here while you go in?” I asked.

This would be the wise choice. The owner of the tree was a certain Mr. Gruber. a hot headed old German, whose temper was legendary. We knew he was home but we also knew he was in the front room because the sound of the ball game drifted across the house.

“Because I’m not scared and you are,” Stan said.

It made no sense but it made perfect Stan-sense which he explained. “You’re faster than me when you’re scared.”

What could I say to that?

So I hopped the fence, scurried across the lawn, picked up a dead-fall and launched it into the tree.

I missed.

I didn’t miss the tree. I missed everything in the tree. The apple, with nary a whisper among the leaves, arced gracefully through the tree and ended its flight against the glass of Mr. Gruber’s kitchen window.

It didn’t break but it sounded like it did. An instant later, a furious, beet-faced Mr. Gruber burst through his door in hot pursuit.

Stan was quite right about one thing and absolutely wrong about another. I was fast when I was scared. I took the fence in one leap and sprinted up the alley but when Stan was scared, he was a whole lot faster than me. In the time it took to reach the end of the alley, Stan was out of sight but Mr. Gruber was not.

In fact, I made distressingly little headway against Mr. Gruber. He was close enough on my heels for me to hear his breathing but try as I might, I could not outrun him.

As we sprinted across a side street, Mr. Gruber started to fade and fearing that he might lose me, he called to another neighbor who was mowing his lawn and without hesitation or explanation, the neighbor joined the chase. Now I had two adults on my tail and it wasn’t long until I picked up a third. Within a block, I was dragging half a dozen neighbors, a milkman and several dogs.

Confident that the chase was in good hands, old man Gruber allowed himself to collapse against a power pole. It was the last we saw of him.

As we ran through the streets, the hubbub of the pursuing crowd roused more neighbors and by the time I made it to my street, I was leading a very large mob

Rounding the corner, I spotted my father.

He was doing what he always did on summer evenings, crawling around on his hands and knees with a butter-knife digging up dandelion roots. It is the kind of thing people did in our neighborhood.

When he looked up and saw his son pursued by a mob, without hesitation or explanation, he whipped off his belt and thrashed me with it.

After he was done, he asked the crowd what it was I did. No one knew and no one thought to ask me.

The next day, I ran into Stan.

“I hear you got away with it,” he said, grinning that big Stan smile of his.

“What!” I cried, “I got a whipping.”

“Yeah,” Stan said, “but your dad didn’t know why he was whipping you, so you got away with it.”

It made sense, perfect Stan-sense.

Author: Almost Iowa

37 thoughts on “Stealing Apples”

  1. What a story! And, I loved reading the comments. I was too afraid of my parents – and neighbors – to get into too much trouble. Though my behind thought I must have been a real stinker. I used to tell my dad that my big behind was his fault. He whooped it so many times that it was permanently swollen.

  2. I never knew how lucky we were:

    – We had three wild apple trees of those apples.
    We just climbed up and et ’em.
    – Wild strawberries, too.
    – No one who grew home fruit begrudged it of us. Everybody grew watermelon, so that one was covered.

    We had a Mr. Gruber, but he only protected his veggie garden. Who the heck gave a fudge?

      1. My sister’s bunny. He escaped from his backyard hutch, twice, and was found both times in out Mr. Gruber’s garden.

        Days after the second time, Meg came out to find him in his hutch dead, his neck broken.

        He must have broken it himself trying to escape. Somehow.

    1. A while back, Stan and I were reflecting on our lives. It is something you do after your hair turns gray and you’ve polished off three pitchers in a brew pub.

      Me: “If you could do all over again, would you do what you were supposed to?”

      Stan: “Naw, I never follow instructions…”

  3. We always relied on the cover of darkness to hide our nefarious deeds. For instance, the neighbor behind my house (with a similar inclination as Mr. Gruber) had a prized pear tree in his back yard. One morning the sun came up to reveal a large portion of its golden fruit had been stolen…sort of. We had eaten our fill the night before, but hadn’t actually picked the pears from the tree, so the cores were left hanging on the branch. One of our finer moments…

    1. Back then I hated the fact that everyone in the neighborhood saw it as their personal responsibility to keep an eye on everyone else’s kids. Now I yearn for those days.

  4. Ha! This sounds like a story Dad would tell because German farm families had as many “no’s” that also required testing by male youngsters. Sounds like Stan originated the quote, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I just have to outrun you.”

        1. Most likely and of course the adventure would end with the honeypot stuck on the bear’s head. It is not that Stan was bad, it’s that things just happened to him and it’s not like hanging out with Stan was bad but things just happened to those who hung out with him.

  5. What a wonderful tale. It reminds me of the logic often used by my teachers and parents: you may not deserve punishment this time, but we surely missed giving you a whack when you did deserve it. It all evens out.

    The funniest fruit-stealing story I ever heard is a true one. My dad just had begun courting my mom. One night, they were sitting on the front porch, and he decided to impress her with a watermelon-stealing story. It was filled with so many details that it didn’t take her long to fix him with a steely-eyed glare and say, “That was my grandpa you stole that from.”

    I’m here, so I guess it didn’t matter in the end.

    1. We had a neighbor who bragged that she spanked her kids once a week, regardless. It was for all the things they got away with.

      After moving to a small town, I can appreciate the watermelon story. Here in Almost Iowa, everyone knows everyone and almost everyone is related. The hard part for me is that everyone knows me and I hardly know anyone.

      1. I had a taste of that when I moved into a small, rural Texas town. The great irony is that the shared history was so well known that no one talked about it much. Only now, as I’ve begun researching Texas history, have I come across certain names and now realize precisely whose descendents surrounded me.

        1. We have run into the same thing. My wife is from Blooming Prairie, a town with a reputation that earned it the nickname of “Boozing Prairie”. It is located in the geographic grid where Steele, Dodge, Mower and Freeborn counties come together. Three of those counties were dry and the town exploited the fact by filling Main Street with bars. By 1918, the liquor trade became so much of a “problem” that the surrounding counties petitioned the governor to order the National Guard to shut down the bars. The occupation lasted a week but during that time, the bars simply did business out the back door – with their traditional customers, as well as with the National Guard.

          A few years later during Prohibition, the bar owners set up stills outside of town to supply the Twin Cities and Chicago with high-quality white whisky.

          It is something no one wants to talk about.

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