The Jewish New Year is all about the sweetness of apples and honey, so that the genesis of our upcoming year is saccharine, free of the travails of the year before. As the mother of a busy 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, what better way to ring in the year than with apple picking? Great idea, right? We get to drive out to the country, fill our urban lungs with fresh rural air, take in the autumnal sights of the changing colors of the leaves, and hopefully get our kids to take a nap en route.
This adventure began with nothing but hope and good intentions. We also hoped to avoid going to a very popular apple orchard, frequented by many people we know, because they charged each person over the age of 3 (of which I’m many, many years over) a cover charge. With my clubbing days long behind me, I had no intention of paying to get into the orchard only to then have to pay an overpriced amount per pound of apples, which made the price of buying organic ones at the most expensive grocery store in my city more appealing. So, we did our research (well at least my husband said he did) and off we went.
The kids cried the entire way there. No nap. Not even a hint of one during the almost hour-long drive. Two screaming children makes for a less than serene atmosphere in which anyone could appreciate the mélange of candied-apple, golden, and bronzed hues of the aging leaves mixed with the leftover bits of green vibrancy desperately trying to hang on to the dog days of summer.
We arrived at the orchard my husband had settled on, which promised not only that we could pick apples, but pears, squash, and zucchini, too. As we pulled up the long drive leading us to the nirvana we were waiting for, we were overwhelmed with the line of cars parked on the dirt path, plus the hundreds more jammed into the parking lot. As we scoured the scene, we took note of the barren apple trees, so picked over that they had more in common with a woman post-bikini wax than the inviting promise of a fecund fall harvest. We parked, got out of the car–more like jumped since we were all going stir-crazy–and ventured over to ask about pricing.
“Oh, we don’t charge by weight. Here’s a bag. Twenty bucks up front. Take what you can stuff into it,” the less-than-charming orchard owner advised me.
“What if I only pick a few apples? Do you then weigh my bag before we leave and refund us the difference in what I paid up front?” I asked stupidly, already knowing the answer to my own question. But, the lawyer inside of me wanted to cross-examine my witness hoping that with added probing, he’d sing a different tune.
“We don’t weigh. No refunds. NEXT!”
I turned toward my husband, who, with his eager, expectant puppy dog eyes hoping for a lengthy reprieve from the car, knew that the expression on my face told him everything he needed to know–we were outta there.
Luckily, we didn’t have to drive far, since in this neck of the woods of backcountry, there were more orchards up and down the main road than you could swing a stick at. After exiting our strike one, we pulled into the closest orchard we could find. Without practically any cars in the lot, and trees that were zaftig with fruit, we grew hopeful. Wizened from our first experience, I told my husband not to park the car, but to drop me off to speak with the keeper of the orchard.
“Any chance you offer a small, and I mean tiny, apple picking package? One that allows my toddler to have an apple picking experience, but doesn’t leave us with 50 apples that will never be eaten?” I asked hesitantly.
“We got a $5 option.”
“Great!” I gave my husband the thumbs up to park the car. I paid for our $5 bucket, helped get the kids out of the car, and was ready for some good old-fashioned fun. My husband carried our 1-year-old baby, who sucked away on his bottle, and I took my toddler by the hand, prepared to set off in search of delicious apples.
All of a sudden, my toddler wailed, “I—sniff, sniff, sniff—don’t like—sniff, sniff, sniff—the GRASS!”
“Honey, this is just grass like we have at home, but a bit taller. It’s no big deal,” I said.
“Carry—sniff, sniff, sniff—me!”
With my husband’s arm full of babe, my task swelled to picking the apples while lumbering through the orchard with almost 29 pounds of 3-year-old on my back. Did I mention that I have a herniated disc in my neck? The chore of picking the apples wouldn’t have been so bad, even with my tall grass-fearing child draped around my neck, had there been a ladder to allow for picking the apples, which resided at the top of the trees, on which climbing was verboten. Did I mention I’m barely a smidge over 5 feet tall?
Somehow, I managed to fill the basket full of apples, after taking 45 minutes of sorting through many rotting ones, while my daughter cried, and my husband took selfies of himself and our baby. A sweaty, hot mess by the end of the not-so-sweet sojourn through the plantation of apple picking pleasure, I loaded my toddler into the car, who happily proclaimed: “I picked apples,” followed immediately by, “These are my nipples!”
The next time I get the hair-brained idea of taking a toddler and baby apple picking, or rummaging for produce of any kind out in the wilds of nature, please remind me that I’d be better off bathing with the hair dryer plugged into its socket. Oh, and the apples were sour. But, it will be a memorable event that we’ll look back on fondly once enough time has passed. Happy New Year!