It's a place
where anyone with a decent story they care about may tell it to others. You may send in your story to share.
You may respond to a story with one of your own.
Catherine's WWII-Era Upper West Side Story
...and in response:
Emilie's Apple Picking Story
Reading the first story in this column made me think about World War II and something I did then that I had never done
before. I picked apples.
During the early forties I was living in Manhattan and studying at the Art Student's League. Every year or so I would
return to Massachusetts to visit my family and paint outdoors. One August I took along a friend and we had been there only
a few days when my mother said,
"There's an ad in the papers for applepickers. Men are scarce; why don't you two sign up?"
So we did.
Most of the young men in that area were either in the army or working in the Springfield munitions factories, so the
four of us who answered the ad were two sisters, my friend, and I. The orchard was several miles away but the owner sent
a truck to pick us up and drop us off.
The driver of the truck was the hired man. He managed the picking and a better boss I've never had. He loved the
apple trees and he loved to work. He told us that the owner had inherited the older part of the orchard from his father;
here the trees were tall and needed ladders. The apples were comparatively small. The newer part had been planted by
him twenty-one years before, when his son was born, and was bearing fruit for the first time -- big, beautiful #1
McIntoshes. Around the edges of these fields he was doing experiments; like crossing types to make a new eating apple
or seeing if he could raise a type that wasn't usually grown in New England. One of the latter clearly showed his
loving care -- it was trimmed beautifully and had a bountiful crop of light green apples with really pink cheeks.
I can still see it on the hillside -- like something out of fairyland.
Every day began with the hired man's challenge,
"So how many will it be today? Can we do two bags more than yesterday?"
Since the two sisters liked eating Delicious apples, that's what they picked. My friend and I liked McIntoshes and
greenings and we were allowed to pick one of the young trees. We all had to learn to pick by grasping the apple in one
hand, and turning the hand around 90 degrees so that the fruit snapped loose without losing its stem. Without a stem
an apple can begin to rot after it's been in storage for a while.
At noon we sat on a grassy spot somewhere and ate our bag bunches and watched the orchard cat sitting on a stump,
looking around for mice. (Mice damage young trees by chewing away the bark at the base of their trunks.) Sometimes
if he could talk to me alone, the hired man would ask me to explain about women. He was courting someone and didn't
always understand her moods. I guess he trusted me because I could carry my own 12 foot ladder.
Often in the evening when we were going home the big orange autumn moon would be rising and everything would be smelling
good. But one night our euphoria was suddenly broken when the truck swerved violently from our lane to the other side
of the street, banging us all together against its metal sides and each other. When we untangled ourselves one of the
"Hey, man, what are you doing?"
And the hired man yelled back,
"I just can't stand to hit a cat"
By early November all the apples were picked that were being sold retail or sent to the storage warehouse. "Now," said
our boss, "It's cider and pig apples off the ground." And with those words he brought us to our knees. Eight or nine
hours a day of standing, bending, and reaching did us in. We fell asleep before we could fall into bed, we fell asleep
during supper, we fell asleep before supper.
And my mother just laughed. She grew up on a farm in Canada and knew how we felt. She also knew that what we would
remember from this job was not the grueling groundwork but the joy of being on a ladder in a tall tree of beautiful apples
on a blue and gold day in October.