MY THANKSGIVING GIFT
It was a gift of nature. So many petty things can go wrong at a cottage, that when something big goes right, and is a surprise to boot, it's something to cherish.
And so there I stood on Thanksgiving morning, with the last apple of the year in my hand, and thought isn't life grand. One scarlet McIntosh Red, once the most famous apple in Canada, and still one of the best, sat glowing in my hand, safe from the bloody ravens that appeared several years ago to deafen me with their raucous calls and punch the occasional hole in my Macs.
When Mary and I moved into Burnt Point 33 years ago (a significant number for anyone raised intensely in the Baptist church) the widow who was selling her favourite spot on Earth because her husband had just died, gave me a rough census of all the foliage and what lay underneath. I recorded her lecture, which didn't help much when I tried to find the septic tank. And she wasn't really much help on the trees. Still she said the old gnarled tree just outside was a dwarf Mac.
I paid attention to that, but the tree didn't pay attention to me. It never produced despite my spraying and praying. Eventually it was just a place to hang bird feeders and I didn't expect anything from it.
I knew all about McIntoshs, of course. First in school, since school in ancient times actually taught stuff like all the fascinating bits of Canadian history and what all those weeds and flowers and trees were that we passed when we walked the five miles or so to school. (Actually it was several blocks but I exaggerated to make a point to my three sons when they grumbled about how tough life was.)
The history of the Mac is always intriguing. It was as if God had picked a sapling out of the Garden of Eden and planted it on the farm of John McIntosh in 1811 in Upper Canada. No one is quite sure where it came from, or what fruit tree could claim ancient father/mother rights. McIntosh cherished the sapling and started selling Macs in 1835. Decades later it had really spread as the most popular apple in Eastern Canada, New England and eventually some parts of Europe.
I remember the arguments of grownups down below when I roosted on the stairs after bedtime about whether the Mac was too tart and why it couldn't ripen earlier than late September. This was long before we could afford to buy apples from Africa and other exotic parts.
There are many sweeter apples but there's nothing better than a pie of Macs with a thick slice of old cheddar on the side. It would be my last meal before an execution.
I was putting a bird feeder back together in August after raccoons had pulled it apart, probably maliciously because they had emptied it. I filled it, hung it back in the McIntosh tree, and stood back to admire.
Much to my surprise, over my head, were dozens of apples. Never had there been so many. In fact, most recent years, one or two wormy Macs would be the crop, good only for skimming across the waters of the Trent, not even enough for one chomp. I wasn't surprised at that because the tree probably is 60 years old.
For more than a month, the ravens and I have competed in hand-to-beak combat. I would pick a lovely Mac and it would turn out that the other side had been punched, bored and screwed. I would yell at the giant black bullies and throw stones and threaten to unlock the gun safe but they just circled higher and yelled curses.
I thought I had got all the apples before October arrived. I knew there were probably one or two hidden under leaves but between the rhubarb and the Macs, I was getting tired of making sauces. I was making more than the family was eating, probably because they weren't too sure they wouldn't get poisoned if Dad was the cook. (Some days I'll leave some rhubarb leaves in, which really are poisonous.)
On the Sunday of the long weekend, I found a nice Mac on the ground and presented it with a flourish to my grandson Mikey, who regarded it dubiously, as only a 14-year-old can when presented with foreign food. His mother didn't help when she said firmly you can't eat that. I guess they don't have Macs in her homeland of Argentina.
Then came the last perfect apple. Just imagine! I haven't done a thing to the tree for 15 years, just cut out the occasional stub of a branch, and it rewards me with baskets of fruit.
The tradition of Thanksgiving is to give thanks for the bountiful harvest. I may be the only person that day who was giving thanks for a single apple!