A Basket of Apples
About thirty years ago when I was still a twenty-something, I had a little place out in the country with a few apple trees. They produced more than I
could eat, so I often gave them away to neighbours who sometimes in return gave me eggs, lettuces and other goodies. I wasn't concerned about getting
anything back; it was just that I would rather give them away than have them go to waste.
Well one day I was planning to visit my parents. They also lived in the country, about thirty miles away. Although they had a huge garden the apple
trees they'd planted years before had never done very much, which saddened my folks because they loved apples. I'd never figured out why they were
so fond of them, but they were, so I decided to pick some of the best ones from my trees and take them over. I gave them all a shine and put them into
a little wicker basket, covered it with a brightly-coloured dishcloth, sat the basket in the car and headed off to Mum and Dad's.
When I got there Dad was out in the garage doing some work on his car, so because he didn't like to break off a task once he'd started I left him to
it and just took the basket indoors. Mum was in the living room, resting with her feet up after a morning of weeding the garden.
When I walked in Mum smiled in that special way that mothers do for their children. I love that smile. It's one of the most beautiful and genuine
things in the whole world.
We exchanged greetings and then she said, “What do you have there?”
I took the cloth off the basket. “Well, there were so many apples on my trees and I know you like them, so I picked some for you.”
I gave her the basket and she took it in her hands and sat it in her lap and looked at it for a long moment, and after a softly-spoken “Thank
you,” she began to cry. She cried, gently but deeply if you understand me, and I was so surprised by her reaction that it was a few seconds before I
could even say anything, but as I began to speak she just held up her hand and shook her head a little and managed to say, “It's all right. Just
give me a few moments.”
I nodded dumbly and sat in the armchair next to her and as she wiped her eyes with a small floral handkerchief that she always kept tucked up one
sleeve somewhere, she told me once again that she would be okay in a minute or two. “And then – then I'll explain everything,” she
Nodding again, I thought a moment then asked, “Would you like me to make some tea?”
“Yes... That – that would be nice.”
I went off to the kitchen and began preparing a pot of tea. I am English-born, as are my parents and theirs before them for many generations, and the
ritual of tea is one that often helps. It also gave my Mum a little time to be alone.
A few minutes later when I brought in the tea tray, Mum was holding one of the apples and turning it slowly and studying it, almost as if it were a
beautiful green crystal ball and she was peering into its depths to discern the images that were there.
And in a way, she was.
I poured the tea and after taking a sip and sighing, “Ah, that's better,” Mum placed her cup and saucer on the tray and then, taking a deep
breath and slowly exhaling, she looked down at the basket and began, “These apples – this basket of apples – suddenly took me back to another
time, another place, and it just overwhelmed me.” She sniffed and managed a slightly crooked smile. “You know how it is, sometimes.”
I smiled and nodded.
“When you took the cover off the basket and I saw those apples there, looking so lovely, I suddenly saw myself as a girl again, back in the
The War. For many people of my mother's generation, there was only one War.
My mother grew to womanhood during World War Two, and I already knew from what she'd told me that it had been a very difficult time, because she had
lived in a village just outside of Portsmouth, England, which was home to the largest naval base in the southern British Isles and was therefore a
prime target for the Luftwaffe bombers that flew over, often night after night, dropping their deadly loads and sometimes missing their main targets,
the 500-pound bombs falling instead on the homes and shops and schools in the town itself, or even on the smaller villages and townships nearby.
She had told me what it was like, to go down into their cellar every night when the air-raid sirens sounded and hide there in the dark, a young
teenage girl and her mother huddled together in one corner as that was supposed to be safer if the floor above them caved in, huddling there and
trying not to scream when a bomb shook the house with a heavy thump and everything creaked and groaned and it seemed that only the stacks of books
from the cellar floor to the ceiling were holding up the building above them.
The girl who would become my mother was the only child her
mother still had at home. She was the youngest and her three brothers were in the
RAF, her two sisters also serving in the WAAF, so it was rare that any were home for more than a few days at a time. And as her own father was lost at
sea just three days after her fourteenth birthday when his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat, he would never be coming home.
So, most nights in the darkest days of the war, she and her mother hid in that cellar and prayed to any God that might be listening to let them live
through another night, prayed that this rotten, horrible, senseless, stinking miserable war would end and they would live to see it end, prayed for
the day when all the family could be together once more and they could at least mourn their father in peace.
(Continued to conclusion in next post