Monday, April 15, 2013

Good Luck Chuck

My mother knew how to grow things. She successfully grew thousands of beautiful things in her exquisite flower gardens that artfully encircled the bustling brick home where the six biggest and best things she had ever grown … grew.
I’m not so talented I fear. I never inherited my mother's remarkable patience, one of her most defining and admirable characteristics.
But I still try, and every now and again a miracle happens.
On a rainy, shivery day two Octobers ago, my husband, sons and I went to a neighboring farm to pick out pumpkins with character and personality enough to become our official Jack-o'-lanterns. The three boys waded through a clumpy sea of orange, while I searched for a few fluffy bundles of mums and a welcoming fall wreath wide enough to cover the chipped paint on our front door.
Although we set off in different directions to complete our missions, we all bumped into each other a few short minutes later inside the cozy, fragrant barn where they produced spicy apple cider, frothy hot chocolate, and chewy molasses cookies. Seriously, how do they expect us to focus on the frozen pumpkins outside when they keep the warm pumpkin BREAD inside?
We stood together talking with our mouths full when I noticed a sad little tree in a red, cracked plastic pot toppled over in the corner of the shed, lost among the twisted gourds, cornhusks and dried fruit. It was a literal stick in the mud with a few straggling leaves hanging on for dear life. I would never have known it was an apple tree if I hadn't read it on the stretchy, white tag that rippled in the cool draft as if announcing the sapling's surrender. But then again, I couldn't identify any apple tree unless it was fully laden with completely ripe apples — such is my agricultural acumen.
As it happened, we were in the market for a tree to plant in honor of my grandparents who had recently passed away. When my son christened the tree, the "Charlie Brown Apple Tree", after that iconic little spruce-that-could in A Charlie Brown Christmas, we were sold. We are a family that always roots for the underdog, afterall. 
Of course, my expectations were nil. Very rarely do I put something in the ground and watch it spring back up again.
Once home, we realized the only place it would fit was our front yard. Not good. On that cold, wet October afternoon — a prelude to one of the coldest Boston winters I have experienced since moving here — I was pretty sure planting season had already passed and this poor sap didn’t stand a chance. I didn’t want the neighbors to witness the inevitable demise of our deciduous tree.
But the boys had so much enthusiasm for the project that I let them dig full steam ahead and excavate a big, gaping pit in my tiny front yard, while I stood back and watched the gentle drizzle settle into shiny pearls on their black hair. My sons exuberantly plopped Charlie Brown in the hole and we heard the greedy ground suck it down way too deep with a satisfying slurp. We filled in the empty places with the remaining muck and some potting soil I found left over from the previous spring when I murdered some perfectly innocent impatiens.
Good luck, Chuck.
I took off my sodden gloves and watched my sons; two unbelievably filthy, muddy messes, laughing and battling each other with the sharp ends of the shovels; a trip to the ER waiting to happen. They seemed so gangly and unbalanced with long limbs sprouting from trunks that were getting taller and thicker by the minute. Oh, how I worry I won’t successfully grow these boys. If I can’t cultivate something in dirt, what odds do I have of getting these boys to adulthood? The responsibility seems overwhelming at times.
Four feet of crusted snow encased our little apple tree for most of the winter, while my sons busily plowed their way through fifth grade. That spring, my children emerged a few inches taller and the tree developed tender new growth and bright green leaves — that quickly turned yellow with dark spots and curled brown and crumbly on the edges. Darn. But we were busy with baseball, MCAS, impossible school projects that involved building things, and, well, growing.
It seemed months passed before I noticed Charlie Brown. My neighbor came up to me and said she’d never seen a tree so small bear so much fruit.
What, huh?
I looked over and sure enough our little Charlie had apples all over everywhere. Round apples. Red apples. REAL apples. Apples that were GROWING. It was amazing to see so many apples on such a little tree. Cue Snoopy and the angelic Peanuts choir. This tree was a Christmas miracle.
How did it grow so big, so quickly, against all the odds? I don't know. I look at my children every day and wonder the same thing.