It’s been said; “Be careful of what you ask for, you just might get it.” We’ve all heard it, you might think given my age, I would have learned that by now. Unfortunately, even in my fifties I still catch myself looking over the proverbial fence, admiring the “greener” grass and staring at things that aren’t mine. Yes, yes, I know it’s wrong, but there I am, staring at things that ain’t mine yet covet just the same.
I believe this is a character defect shared by the vast majority of adults, the new car, the gold watch, bigger better house (with the pool), or possibly a handsome young man or beautiful young lady. Always that shiny bobble calling to us, beckoning just on the other side of the fence, so close we can almost touch it, but just out of reach.
Even as a child I seemed to possess that undeniable urge. I tend to comfort myself with the knowledge that it is arguably the most common of character defects. In my humble opinion, one shared by all of us if we were completely honest with ourselves. That thought brings me to our story; I hope you enjoy it.
Behind papaw’s auto shop stretched a large field, complete with several old cars and trucks scattered randomly within the tall grass and weeds. The collection included several makes and models, all in various stages of rust and decay. Slowly returning to the earth, completing the cycle of life and death.
Those rusting hulks provided endless places to play, endless opportunities for journeys far and wide. The perfect environment for the nurturing of a young boy’s growing imagination, not to mention a place to hide when we got in trouble.
My brother and I had certain areas of the field set up for specific adventures. Complete with small roads and tunnels, custom made for Hot Wheels and other small vehicles. Construction areas for “Tonka” trucks and dozers’ were set up, roads were cut, and dams were built there, miniature metropolises sprouted from the red dirt as if by magic. In other areas, wars were fought, and battles raged. Miniature soldiers took shelter behind plastic tanks and small lumps of coal, if we were lucky enough to possess firecrackers, well, it should go with-out saying, things went nuclear.
At the bottom of the driveway grew a large willow, its branches curved back to the ground like an umbrella, creating a secret world within the leaves. We often hid under this canopy in search of solitude, or perhaps escape the abuse we often suffered by the hands of the men in the family.
Even on the hottest of days the canopy provided a shaded and cool world, cut off from the troubles of life. Countless adventures began and ended there. I personally visited every corner of the planet under those branches, from the pyramids of Egypt to the dense rain forests of Africa.
But it was the other end of the field that called to us that one hot summer, the far upper corner. We didn’t know it then, but a trap had been set for two young boys, a trap most foul.
An old barbed wire fence enclosed our property, ancient and rusted. Covered to the point of collapse by honeysuckle and poison ivy. If my memory serves me, there was even an old wild muscadine vine growing there as well, though the berries weren’t very good. Small and bitter, acidic to say the least, but that didn’t stop us from eating them, not by a long-shot. There we would sit my brother and I, both of us stuffing our faces and grimacing at the taste of the foul little berries. It was a contest of sorts, to see which one of us would give up, giving the other bragging rights in regard to how tough we were.
Then there was the honey-suckle, oh the honey-suckle. The smell of those sweet flowers never seems to leave our memories. Even in our waning years, just a brief whiff instantaneously transports us back to a hot summer and our childhood. See, you’re think about them right now.
No decent kid could pass those little flowers without stopping to pluck a blossom, then carefully remove the stem and enjoy the nectar that dripped from the end. Any honey suckle professional knew the best ones were the yellow ones. I can’t begin to guess the amount of time spent plucking those blooms, by the way, the flowers don’t taste like the nectar at all, take it from a pro. They have a bitter taste that seems to linger in your mouth forever. Trust me on this.
Morning Glories grew there also, special flowers Morning Glories, great patches of color in the early morning mist, but doomed to fade away with the rising temperature. Then as if by magic, there they were the next morning bright as ever. They hadn’t died, they had simply bowed their heads and closed their eyes to avoid the summer heat, only to wake up the next morning, bright as ever.
Funny thing about them, the moment you picked one it would die, no, not in a couple of days like daisy’s, but just as soon as it was pulled from the vine it began to wilt. Life lesson there I s’pose’ but, I’m not gonna go there now. We have far more pressing matters to discuss, far more pressing indeed, and it had everything to do with that far corner of that field.
You see, there was a single bare spot on that old fence in that far corner. A spot without doubt, placed there by the devil himself for the sole purpose of tempting two young boys.
A panoramic view to be sure, framed by honeysuckle and muscadine vines, then edged with bright morning glories. A frame worthy of the finest painting, in the finest of faraway museums. A view of what you may ask, well now, that’s our story ain’t it?
You see just on the other side of that old fence, just in the perfect spot to be viewed by prying eyes, grew the most beautiful apple tree on God’s good earth. The only other tree what could possibly compare was most surely the original located in the garden of Eden.
Consequently, the grass under said tree lay decorated with the most beautiful apples we had ever seen. And in the midst of those beautiful apples, laying there in the neatly mowed grass, rested the king of all Apples. Taunting the two of us, calling the two of us, easily 100 times the size and color of all the other apples in the world. Perfect in every way, and there it was, under that tree calling us from a distance, and we wanted it.
There was one tiny little problem, you see, it weren’t ours, the tree grew on the wrong side of the fence. That one of a kind tree belonged to our neighbor. A kindly man as I recall, a man of gentle spirit and portly in nature, and if my memory serves me, a salesman of some sort. A big cigar was usually clinched between his teeth and his head was always covered with a fedora. Complete with hat band and small feather for decoration.
He usually drove huge cars that reeked of cigar smoke and old man smell inside, but always spotless and polished on the outside. I’m sure he would have given us any number of apples had we only asked, but that thought never seemed to cross our minds.
Every day we ran to that bare spot and stared through the frame. Just to make sure it was still there, to gaze upon it and to make certain it was safe, and to dream.
Crossing the fence meant certain death for sure should we get caught. We imagined the old man running across the yard, grabbing us by the scruff of the neck, and dragging us like two sacks of taters back to our dad and papaw.
The thought sent chills down our spines; the resulting beatings were too much to comprehend. So, after days of thought and nights of dreaming, we did what any street-savvy maladjusted pair of young boys would do, we formulated a plan.
Keep your enemies close. Right?
Running as fast as we possibly could and completely out of breath we crashed into the shop. Inside we found both dad and papaw working on a customer’s car. Breathlessly we began to share the apple story.
Painting a masterpiece with our words. The most beautiful apple in the world we said, a chance to see such a thing happened only once in a lifetime we said, if we were lucky. Surely, they wouldn’t want to miss such an opportunity, they simply had to see such a sight with their own eyes. We saw it as our duty, no, our calling, to retrieve such a prize and show it to the world.
In an act of bravery, (no), an act of personal sacrifice not seen since the beaches of Normandy, we volunteered to cross enemy lines and rescue that apple and bring it back for both of them to see, both of them to enjoy.
Papaw simply looked down at the both of us, then without a word turned and continued his work. Dad looked at us and with a small shake of his head did the same. We took this lack of rejection as proof of permission, so off we ran, hard as our legs could carry us, back to the bare spot in the fence.
We arrived there completely out of breath, our hearts beating wildly, partially due to the sprint, but mostly the excitement. We had been waiting for this, the moment had finally come, it was time to act. I was the oldest so of course, I talked my little brother into the dangerous part. I would pull apart the rusty barbed wire, so he could get through, and make the run. We had to be quick, even though we knew we had permission from the men, there was still the ever-present danger of being caught by Mr. Murphy and we certainly didn’t have his permission.
I grabbed the wire with both hands pulling it apart, my brother then dove through the opening and jumped to his feet. Running like a rabbit he made his way to the tree, fell to his belly and grabbed the apple. Then, apple in hand, sprinted back at breakneck speed. I pulled the wires apart as he shot through the hole like a circus acrobat.
Out of breath and full of adrenaline we sat there for a second, looking at each other, basking in a sense of glory and accomplishment the likes of which neither of us had ever felt. In our minds we had accomplished a feat equal to a Nazi raid by Patton’s army, at that moment we were our own heroes.
After we allowed our hearts time to slow down a bit, we finally looked down at the apple, it was huge, easily the size of an adult’s open hand, the color was perfect, the shape was perfect, it was just as wondrous in hand as it was under the tree, but as he began to roll the apple in his hand our hearts sank.
A flood of disappointment, despair, and remorse fell upon us, we had been cheated. As he turned the apple in his hand, we could see the entire bottom was rotten, decayed from weeks laying on the wet ground, the rest of the flesh had gone soft and inedible, all that decay was covered over by the beautiful skin.
The apple we had so coveted, so longed for was a lie, (get the message here?) a trap and we were certain it was set by the devil himself, just for the two of us. He fooled us the same way he fooled Eve, and we were devastated. With a heavy heart and a rotten apple in hand, we slowly made our way to the shop.
The men were still working on the car as we walked up and showed them the apple. Dad was the first to speak as we stood there. Well did you boys git it? He asked. Yea, I replied, but look at it, its rotten on one side. It looked a lot different from our side of the fence. He looked at us both, mad as hell, you boys stole something today and that makes you thieves. You know what happens when you steal don’t you?
My brother and I looked at each other in utter panic. But we had permission we cried. You said we could yer self.
“I didn’t say a damn thing” came the response.
The hairs on our necks stood on end, a sharp pain shot through our stomachs, the kind that comes only in times of extreme terror. We were about to get a beating and we knew it.
So, we did what any kid would do, we started crying at the top of our lungs. I mean screaming so loud the neighbors had to hear, remorse was our only defense. We knew all too well what a whipping meant; we had endured far too many. The best we could hope for was bruising, but the worst, well we don’t want to go there.. He would get angrier with every strike, he didn’t know when to stop, at times it took days to recover.
This time was different, as dad began to remove his belt, papaw walked over and stood between the two of us and our executioner. He pointed his finger squarely at dad’s face.
“You had the chance to tell ’em boys not to take that apple just a short while ago, but you just kept yer mouth shut. If you go and try to whip ’em boys now then I’m gonna whip you”
Dad thought about papaw’s words for a second, then with a look of defeat, slowly began to put his belt back on.
With rotten apple in hand we both turned, and walked away.
We both learned a lesson that day, I’ll go as far as to say our dad learned one as well. So many things look better over the fence. We can’t help but look over to see how they sparkle and shine.
Most folks just look and wonder “what if.” But from time to time some fall victim to ol’ Scratches trap, they try to justify their desires, be it a new car, another job, or some other worthless bobble. Grown-ups don’t have the rusted ol’ fence with pretty Morning Glories and Honey Suckle. I think that kinda trap is for young boys.
As adults we may see younger, richer, or prettier on the other side of the fence. Oft times leaving families in fragments and trails of broken lives behind us. We see and hear about it almost every day. But, in reality it’s all an illusion really. A lie placed there by the devil, waiting for some unfortunate soul to look through the Honey Suckle and Muscadine. Gaze through the pretty frame, and thus fall victim to the bare spot in the fence.
This is one of many memories from my childhood, yes it’s really a true story. I didn’t grasp the lesson until I laid my childhood to the side and spoke as a man. I remember most of these tales as they were just yesterday. But cancer is now slowly stealing them from me. I find comfort in these stories as often as I can, and now I share them with you. Just remember, though framed in pretty flowers and berries, be wary of what you may see on the other side of the fence. If you enjoyed my little tale all I ask in return is a simple “like” or a “share.” The share would be nice. Please don’t forget to follow this page as well.
From the bottom of my heart; Thank You, from The Tin Cup Clan.