The apple trees were four years old when they produced their first crop at our home on Brant Lake. We harvested Empires, Macs, Granny Smiths and one tree with a mix of apples grafted from a variety of species. Deep red, yellow and green fruit sparkled in the early morning sun as our orchard awakened. It was peaceful as I roamed among the trees. Only the occasional haunting wail of a loon, or a duck quacking under the birdfeeder, disturbed the silence. These were pleasant sounds, voices of the Adirondacks.
However, soon the little ones, the grandchildren, would gather to pick apples. Some they would eat, juice trickling down their chins, other apples they would feed to the giant black horse Elgar, or Pokémon the pony, turning gray after many years. The remainder of the apples would be devoured by an old wooden cider press, the cider to be saved as a remembrance of autumn at Brant Lake.
While the children gathered, I summoned my own remembrance of growing up in Albany–––and apples. Every fall, my parents and I would drive to Indian Ladder Farm, an orchard located on the outskirts of town. My parents loved apples, especially in the barren winter months.
On the designated Saturday in October we would travel in our brown Plymouth coupe, the car with the canvas top that blew off on State Street hill and thus commemorated the only instance when my father owned a convertible. The annual visit to the apple orchard became a family pilgrimage, one that even a child could enjoy.
Then, every night at 11 o’clock, before my parents went to bed, they would climb the steps to the cool attic where the fruit remained crisp and tart, and, retrieving two apples, they enjoyed their bedtime repast. My parents were only 58 when my father died but my mother retained the tradition of the 11 o’clock apple, partially out of nostalgia but also because she was a devotee of apples and, in the scheme of time, 11 o’clock and apples had become synonymous.
But a day arrived when my mother, in her late 80’s, frail and unable to remain awake late into the evening, was advised by her healthcare companion to go to bed at 9 o’clock. This created a problem for my mother who, although weak in body, had not relinquished her powers of reasoning. How, if she concluded her day at nine, could she eat an apple at 11? Finally, she agreed to the inevitable and accepted her apple at an earlier hour. However, on the first night of the new regime, as she took a bite of a succulent Mac, she shook her head and lamented: “Nine o’clock comes too early.”
Now, as autumn settles in over Brant Lake, casting a beautiful, yet bittersweet, veneer on life, I recall her words: “Nine o’clock comes too early,” and I sigh, aware that the passage of time is beyond our control.
Yes, 9 o’clock can come too early—not only for eating apples.