I had a best friend while growing up in Pennsylvania who lived in a modest home at the center of a golf course south of Lancaster. We did everything together from playing sports to learning about girls as we entered middle school.
One of our favorite places to talk or hide out on quiet afternoons was the giant apple tree that stood in a stone well next to the front porch. We’d climb out on a fat limb worn smooth by our visits and talk about what mattered in our lives. When apples were in season we’d pick a pair and chomp into them with relish. Sometimes we’d be a little early in choosing to try the apples and experience a tart surprise. We’d laugh and challenge each other to keep eating as our faces squinched up in sour delight.
As we aged our apple tree talks turned to sports. We both had favorite baseball and football teams, and followed some classic World Series contests on AM transistor radio.
At age ten we tried out for baseball and made the team. Our club won the Lancaster New Era city championship. Both of us earned our own “letter jackets” in glorious red with large sewn-on patches. His jacket stayed emaculate, while mine got dirty and the sleeves turned to threads. I wore that jacket proudly and also wore it out. Such are the fortunes of souls whose self-esteem is tied so closely to their athletic endeavors.
We also competed in gym class at Martin Meylin Junior High. Every kid in the class had to take physical fitness tests and the outcomes branded you for half the year at least. A Blue stripe marked the most accomplished, a Red Stripe was second rank and a White Stripe was pretty much the ribbon of disgrace. I missed the Blue Stripe by two mere pull-ups, and was devastated. But my friend missed out too. So we consoled each other in the apple tree.
That year in gym class I did learn about my running ability. We all lined up on the cinder track next to Lampeter-Strasburg High School and took off running for twelve full minutes. The goal was to cover as many laps as you could in the allotted time. I led the way with 8 and 1/4 laps, the best in school.
Not long after that our family moved to Illinois and my boyhood friend and I were separated by distance, time and the cost of long-distance phone calls. We met up again over the years, but the connections dissolved and finally fell apart.
But when we were close nothing made more sense than making sense of life while sitting in that apple tree. There was certainty in the comfort of that smoothed out bark. The dappled light. The sound of our voices, and I loved his voice, was a vital part of growing up. He had three sisters and knew tons more about girls and women than I ever would. I had three brothers and found most everything about girls mysterious and somewhat confusing.
He’d sometimes explain why certain girls liked me and why others might not. At one point he explained that if I wanted girls to like me, I’d have to learn to let them win at sports once in a while. Even at that age, I refused to think that way. If my goal was to impress girls, how would letting them beat me do that?
HIs advice was a bit of apple tree wisdom I chose to disregard. Sure enough, I was right about women in that respect after all. They are perfectly capable of beating me on a number of fronts. I rather take pride in my version of apple tree wisdom. Along the way the feeling of losing to girls and women in sports was a tart surprise at times, but soon enough the apples ripen and you realize that sharing time in the apple tree with women is worth the taste of a few sour apples along the way.