Under Frozen Ground MAG

By Unknown, Unknown, Unknown

   Overand over again, my Baba pushes the pink drapes away from the kitchen window andslides the double-pane of glass open. She sticks her head through the gap andbellows at me across the yard. "Nadinka, zastegney shaket!" sheinsists. "Da, da," I grumble, as I comply with my grandmother's demand.I hastily fasten the buttons on my jacket. My papa says nothing, but I know he ison my side. He never tells me to button my jacket no matter how chilling thebreeze.

That same crisp breeze penetrates the air every year when we pickapples, rustling the sunburned leaves. Baba always wants me to keep my jacketbuttoned. Picking the fist-sized green apples off the warm, rippling canvas ofautumn colors is easy. The contrast of the golden-reds and the tart chartreuseapples lends itself well to our cause. By the end of the day Papa and I willpluck each apple off the pregnant trees.

At dawn my Papa and I retrieve atall ladder from the garage, and a short one with only four rungs. The short oneis for me. We set up our ladders on opposite sides of the first red-orange giantand pick our regions of the tree bare. I pick only the apples I can reach a fewfeet off the ground. Papa picks the apples off the tip-top branches. I am alwaysjealous because the apples Papa gathers in his basket are better than mine; thesquirrels can't reach the apples that dangle from the top of the tree and insteadfeast on my easily accessible ones. When I have picked my gnarled, gnawed applesfrom the lowest branches, and Papa has cleared his satin smooth, virgin applesfrom the heights, we lug our ladders to swap locations.

"JohnnyAppleseed," my papa exclaims in our language, as we apple-pick. "Do youlearn about him in school?"

"Yes Papa," I say. "I goto an American school." I giggle under my breath; a teacher hasn't mentionedJohnny Appleseed since first or second grade. They are too busy teaching longdivision and fractions.

"Ah," Papa says. "Johnny Appleseedwas the best planter. These are the best apples. These are our American JohnnyAppleseed apples!" Papa gets very excited when he says that. Each syllablegains speed and his accent grows thick. He loves American tall tales. They takethe place of the folklore he misses from home. He came with my baba to thiscountry 25 years ago with nothing but a change of clothes and two spoons. Thosespoons will be on the table at suppertime. Papa loves Mother Russia, but"dirty, syphilitic Stalin" made him leave. Stalin almost sent my papaon a Trans-Siberian train to live with the gray wolves in Siberia. I watch himstretch for another nauseatingly nice apple and I pause, then think, I'm onelucky girl to have my papa here with me and the Johnny Appleseed trees, insteadof buried under frozen Russian ground.

This year the weather is hot as Ipick the Johnny Appleseed apples. The back of my neck is moist with sweat. I waitfor a crisp cooling breeze to send shivers down my neck, but it never comes. Myladder experiences not a hint of motion without the breeze. I totter on the toprung waiting for Baba's harsh caution about the ground's firmness, but shedoesn't slide the curtains open and call out the window for me to button myjacket. Instead she is molded to the couch, too drained and tired to come to thekitchen window to check up on me. The preparations have worn her down. Besides,I'm not wearing a jacket. Instead I wear shorts and my favorite flip-flops. Ican't help but wish it were later in the year.

The apples are hard to findin this mess of green foliage. Finding them is much like circling all 50 words inthe word search on the entertainment page of The New Russian Word that comes toour doorstep once a week, on Sunday, from San Francisco. Word searches are madeto distract you from life. That is exactly what picking the apples does. Theapples are small, they haven't had time to ripen.

As my mama and baba makepreparations behind the pink curtains, I pick the last tree bare. I hurry to putthe apples in baskets, big boxes and paper bags, before the guests come Tuesdayafter church. Both ladders are up but progress takes twice as long this year. Forthe first time, virgin, perfect apples mingle with the nibbled ones.

Babaand Mama are in a hurry to clean the house, notify the guests, find appropriatedresses, make preparations and call Father Nicholas from the church. I just needto pick the last apples. We don't want the yard littered with them when guestscome to Papa's wake.

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i love this !


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