Sunday, July 31, 2011

Grandpa and the Red Apple Adventure

Perched high above the road, the wind cooled my reddening face and tangled my blond bowl-cut hair that I was not quite old enough to be embarrassed by. I was only 5 years old, but I loved riding in my special spot high on top of the carefully loaded apple boxes that had been roped down on the trailer. Every few minutes my Grandpa turned in his seat on the old, underpowered tractor, looked up, smiled and yelled something over his shoulder at me. Then, laughing, he looked forward again to guide the tractor onto the shoulder to allow another vehicle to pass. I could never figure out what he had said. I expect he knew I could not hear him over the wind and the roar of the tractor as it strained under the heavy load at the breakneck speed of 30 mph (50 kph). The usually orchard-bound Massey-Ferguson was unaccustomed to traveling in 5th gear on paved surfaces, as it only made these journeys each year at harvest time.
From the hillside orchard where my family lived with my grandparents it was 3 miles (5kms) to the Vernon Fruit Union packinghouse. There, one box at a time, the family’s harvest of red apples was unloaded onto the platform where they waited to be washed clean of dirt and spray before being graded. While men with sweat stained denim overalls pulled the boxes into the packing house, Grandpa would take me to where older, women would sit on either side of a conveyor belt peering as apples sped by, every now and then pulling one with a scab or odd shape from the parade of fruit. Sometimes he took me to where men nailed tops on new wooden boxes marked “Fancy Spartan Apples” with “Product of Vernon Fruit Union” emblazoned on the end of each box. Occasionally I was lucky enough to see forklifts loading pallets of apple boxes into freight cars on the railway siding alongside the long narrow packinghouse. Everyone was proud of the fact that this Okanagan Valley product was shipped to apple-lovers all around the world.
Despite the obvious truth to the contrary, I felt a part of a critically important chain of commerce. Somehow, when I would be invited along, even if my Mom sometimes did not approve of my precarious placement on top of the loaded trailer, it seemed my Grandpa was offering me a partnership. Somehow, I played a significant, if undefined, role in this red apple business. In those days, what others classified as work was to me adventure. Everyday held endless opportunities for exploration, whether bouncing over furrows in the small orchard, pretending to drive the tractor while balanced on Grandpa’s knee, “helping” him find brown eggs in the chicken coop or trying to squeeze milk from the uncooperative cows in the barn. Everyday was a kaleidoscope of new sights, sounds, tastes and smells. I never remember being bored with Grandpa, or he with me.
Although he never expressed any of this in words, I was accepted, part of a family, loved. I was contributing something just by being myself and spending time with my Grandpa. Only now, 55 years later, do I understand. Now I am the Grandpa. While I have no orchard (the few scrawny apple trees in my backyard being more pathetic than productive), and no tractor except a small John Deere lawnmower, I do have a grandson. And despite my Parkinson’s disease with its tremors and stiffness, never do I feel so accepted, so part of a family, so loved for just being myself than when I am spending time with PJ. And I know now what my Grandpa was saying back then as we took the red apples to town: Life continues to be an adventure through a young boy’s eyes.

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