On the north side of our house, a scant five feet from our living room, stands a scraggly apple tree planted about the same time as the battle at Appomattox by a fun-loving previous owner. Each spring I prune it, because it likes to creep under the roof and change TV channels, and I’m tired of “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Which brings up the subject of politically correct letters to the editor, such as the one I received a few months back but somehow lost under a pile of useful information on my desk. If I hadn’t run out of bathroom tissue, there’s no telling how long it might have sat there.
It read: “Dear Mr. Hubert (letters to the editor are always awash with misspellings). How come you don’t write about your Christmas fruit tree? Signed, Aciniform Zucchini.”
Talk about your coincidences, Aciniform. It so happens the infamous tree of which you speak is the subject of today’s discourse. No matter what folks might say, it became the highlight of the present millennium in our yard and a cornerstone for a brighter future.
What happened was, that particular apple tree on the north side of our house refused to bear edible fruit. Oh sure, once a decade it had some bitsy red raisins that resembled what you see the next morning after a martini wing ding, but it was a boring excuse for a fruit tree. Its taste in television programs wasn’t much better.
So each year I’ve threatened to chop down that tree, even though I knew my wife Marilyn wouldn’t let me. She always said, “It’s not hurting anything.”
The upshot was, when the weather turned warm this year — which seems to happen annually around our house in spite of the good life I lead — I held a brief man-to-tree discussion with that worthless hunk of wood. I said, “Listen, nothing personal, but if you don’t do better this year, it’s firewood time in the valley.”
Leaves rattled, and a drop of sap trickled down the trunk, but I turned away before I changed my mind. I’d talked to that tree before and always gave in to weepy pleas and unfulfilled promises.
So I told Marilyn, “The apple tree and I had a little parley today, and I told it to produce or pick a spot to be stacked.”
“Yep,” I said. “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
The atmosphere in our house was a little tense for a few days, so I promised, “I’ll poison it first. It won’t feel a thing.” That helped, but one day I saw Marilyn outside cooing softly to the tree and rubbing its bark, and I had to turn away, gritting my teeth.
Then summer came upon us, and I was kept busy mowing, watering, fertilizing, bragging, and tearing down Marilyn’s picket signs. But our neighbor Nick Scourge, the abacus professor, urged me on. “When are you going to chop down that eyesore?” he said.
“Shhh,” I said. “I had a hard enough time just pruning it.”
Then autumn finally arrived — I could tell, because my lawnmower started on the first crank as it always does when the grass stops growing — and that’s when I talked to the tree again. “Well, old timer, don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning.”
I walked to the garage and began to sharpen the blade on my axe. In another five minutes I would have performed that arboreal euthanasia, but Marilyn interrupted everything by pulling the plug on my sharpener. “You won’t need that,” she said, gesturing me to follow.
In a few moments we stood beneath the tree, and she pointed at its tallest scraggly branches. “Look,” she said.
“What?” I said. “Are there apples up there?”
“Apples! Ha!” Marilyn said. “Look closer.”
Some folks won’t believe this, but up there in the branches where I couldn’t reach with a PNM apple picker were a couple of dozen … YELLOW SQUASH! And they were keeping company with bunches of … PURPLE GRAPES!
Do I have to go into detail about how Marilyn saved that old tree by stringing squash runners up its trunk and feeding grape vines off the house and into the tree? No, I didn’t think so. You know how Marilyn operated anyway, don’t you?
But I didn’t mind. The fact was I felt good about it. Maybe next year I’ll even add cucumbers or watermelon, even pumpkins as the millennium progresses. Wait till the Christmas Decoration Committee from the Rotary Club sees that.
Bob Huber is a retired journalist living in Portales.