Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rhubarb

When I was a kid, I loved sour things - still do.  We had a farmer by the name of Brown (no kidding) who lived at the top of a street off of mine named Hess Ave., which I considered as high as K-2, and on his farm he had a ...wait a minute this sounds like a song.  On his farm he grew apples and before they ripened for picking, I would climb the mountain, sneak into his orchard and steal green apples.  I loved them; the more sour, the better.  We also had a crab apple tree about twenty yards up our street on the edge of the woods and I would spend hours in that old crab apple tree munching on the unripened fruit.  My mother warned me about the fate of eating too many green apples, but like most youngsters, I learned the hard way.  Unfortunately, that's still my modus operandi.

We also had a family on the street behind us that owned a cherry tree.  Again, I spent many hours among its branches dining on the delicious, sharp-tasting red spheres.

My next-door neighbor had a Concord grape vine that went wild.  I mean this vine, which resembled a Kudzu patch gone postal, covered their whole back yard.  You could park the proverbial Mack truck in this thing.  Each year the vine dangled a rich harvest begging to be picked and I begged to be the picker.  Oh, how those tantalizing plump blue orbs dangled in the next-door backyard, just inches away from my groping fingers.  To me, better yet were the lushes green ones before they matured.  Most of the time I would ask my neighbor's permission before attacking the tangled nest of fruit, but not always and those not always times I usually got caught.  I learned at an early age burglary probably wasn't my best career choice.

Across the street lived a very old lady, Mrs. Crosby, and her daughter Nora, who dressed like a man.  Later in life I came to realize what this woman represented, but as a boy, all I knew was she dressed like a man.  She made Boo Radley of Mockingbird fame look like a beautiful butterfly.  Because Mrs. Crosby hollered at us for playing on the street in front of her house or went ballistic when we fetched an errant ball from her yard, all us kids thought Nora's mother was vicious, maybe even a witch.  Stories of this evil old woman permeated the neighborhood by way of us kids and we proved our worth, like Mafia "made" men, by daring to run up on her porch, knock on the door and race away.  To us, these were acts of great courage because, after all, who knew the devious powers of a witch and her henchwoman?

On the lot next to their little, white corner house, they raised a garden full of vegetables and among the plantings was a small crop of rhubarb.  When I thought about the sour taste of those rhubarb stalks, my mouth watered and my tongue slurped like a hungry hound.  Oh, how I yearned to get my little hands on that succulent, tart rhubarb, but oh, how Nora and Mrs. Crosby watched over their garden like prison guards over their cons.  However, what scared me the most was Nora's BB gun.

I figured a nighttime raid to be my best chance for success.  I knew the witch bedded down pretty early, but the problem was, at that age, so did I.  After many clandestine stakeouts, I determined Nora came home from work about 4 p.m. to eat and many nights she left about six to go wherever she went.  Looking back now, I figure she had some clandestine meetings of her own.  So I figured my best incursion time was right before I was called in for the night - you know, when the street lights came on.  Of course my ever-diligent Christian mother knew about my craving and insisted I never steal anything, much less something from our neighbor's garden.  My father would look at me and shake his head in total frustration.  When concerned with me,  he did a lot of head-shaking.

Patiently waiting for rhubarb harvesting time, I laid in bed scheming my nights away trying to devise the perfect plan to get to the enticing prize across the street.  I finally came up with it, but I needed a co- conspirator to pull it off.  I tried to solicit my oldest sister - no dice.  I tried my youngest sister - tempted, but again batted zero.  Not wanting to involve anyone outside the family, I decided to go it solo.

Day after day I expectantly watched the rhubarb grow and when finally ready for reaping, I picked my night -  Friday.  My parents allowed me extra time to play outside on Fridays, even a little into the dark.  I also knew Nora hit the bricks on Friday nights too.  On the designated night and to my elation, the clouds covered the moon.  I figured this was the time; the stars were lined up to guarantee my victorious invasion.

After dinner, I left the house and climbed up the crab apple tree across from the Crosby's.  I waited for Nora to leave.  I waited and waited until my back started hurting from my contorted position in the branches.  Where was Nora?  Did she leave while I ate dinner or was she still at home?  Darkness began to fall and I knew my time was short before being called in by my mother.  What to do; what to do?  I didn't want to risk waiting for the next Friday night - no, no, they might pick the rhubarb by then.  This was my best chance of getting to the wonderfully tart stalk I had been waiting for all summer.  I decided to go for it.

After slithering down the tree, I casually walked past the garden on the opposite side of the street. passing the lot and another house.   Then I crossed back over the street and darted behind this house and crouched in the bushes overlooking the rhubarb.  I crouched like a tiger ready to pounce.  I watched and waited.  Nothing stirred in the Crosby house.  I knew my mother would soon be calling me in - this was it!

With as much courage as I could muster, I sprang from the bushes and ran to the rhubarb.  Nervous sweat dripped from my forehead as I bent to grab those precious stems.  With my fingers just an inch away from my goal, I heard two doors open.  The first was from my house as mother started calling me home, but I paid much more attention to the second.  Nora stepped out on her porch with BB gun cocked and I felt certain she had a dead bead on me.  I jumped back and took off like a rocket; I knew I was peeling rubber.

I couldn't run home because Nora would see me.  Panicking, I shot up K-2 as BBs whizzed past my ears.  I heard the whistle of the BBs intermingled with my mother's calling.  With a sudden BB sting on my neck, I immediately headed for the cover of the woods and my mother's pleas became less important than getting the hell out of harm's way.  Nora swore something about the "damn kids" as I nestled down in the mosquito-filled trees waiting for Nora to go back in.  As Nora retreated inside, I heard my mother call out in a much higher and louder pitch, "Edward James, you better get in here."  The only reason parents give you middle names is to alert you when you're in deep trouble.  My mother went from Eddie to Ed to Edward and then Edward James.  I was in deep doo-doo.

Waiting in the woods for what seemed like an eternity, I finally decided I had seen the last of Nora and her gun, at least for the night.  When I got home, I caught hell.  If we had a woodshed, I would have been there getting a licking.  So I was sent directly to bed with no supper and hurting from 10,000 mosquito bites and a gigantic BB hole in my neck, I fell asleep dreaming of salted stalks of tender rhubarb.

1 comment:

  1. Miss Schmidt would be proud of your creative writing skills. I know I am.

    ReplyDelete