“Beautiful, night, isn’t it sweetie?”
“Mm. Yes. That breeze? Refreshing.”
“Feels like a perfect night to hop in the pickup and go steal another homeowner’s property, don’t you think?”
“Ooo! Yes! Let’s do that! I’ll tell the kids to put their shoes on!”
That’s what I feel the conversation must sound like every year when people around my area are preparing to come to my house and steal my apples off my apple trees.
When I was a little kid, my parents planted two dwarf apple trees in our backyard. A Jonathan and a Red Delicious. They planted them on the edge of our yard, next to what, in the late 1970s, was a two lane dirt road.
Sounds idyllic, right?
Well, four decades and literally thousands of stolen apples later, I’m here to tell you idyllic is not the word I would choose.
Those two apple trees now sit yards from a sidewalk that runs along the busy, five-lane, paved street that two-lane dirt road grew into.
I don’t know if you know this, but “in public view” apparently translates to “public property” where fruit is concerned. I’m not sure where that exact line is in the city bylaws, but it must be true, else why would legions of people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, swarm to my apple trees every year like a horde of starved warthogs who just set eyes on a first-come-first-served apple buffet?
It’s been like this as long as I can remember. My mom and I used to try to defend our turf. We would chase stunned people off our property. Whether they were stunned to be caught or stunned that we had the nerve to tell them to put the apples down, I was never sure. We would tape signs over the doorbell after the fifth person rang the bell at 7am on a Saturday morning. We put signs in the yard, next to the trees. It was a lot of work for apples that really didn’t even taste all that great to me. That’s right, people, the ones in the store actually taste better. But, I understand, FREE bland apples are so much more EXCITING than paid-for yummy apples.
I very clearly remember one incident when I was about 13. An older, white-haired man in his bib overalls had filled up five full-sized paper grocery bags with apples. Good ones. Five bags. My mom spotted him and went outside to confront him. I followed behind her. She asked him what he was doing. He said he was just taking some apples. All nonchalant, like we were old pals passing on the street and we just asked him, “Hey, Jeb? Whatcha up to?” “Oh, just taking some apples. What are you up to?”
It eventually came down to him saying, “Well, I already picked them. What do you want me to do with them?” Implying, that because he had already gone to all the trouble of stealing them he was somehow entitled to keep them. Because, yes, that just seems fair. I’m sure banks use that rule too.
My mom replied, “I want you to put them down and leave them. That’s what I want you to do.”, her hands shaking as she spoke. Not out of anger, out of fear and adrenaline. She hated confrontation even more than I do, but she was just that incensed by his boldness.
So, he put the bags down. Aaaand, my mom was such a nice person, she felt bad and let him take one bag home. Keep in mind, one bag was probably 40 or so apples.
So, why do I bring all this up?
Because these days the apple trees belong to me and tonight, ladies and gentlemen, the weather is crisp, the breeze is jaunty, and I’ve just had my first apple thieves of the season!
I walked to a room in the back of the house and heard that all too familiar late summer sound of a pickup truck engine in my backyard. I peeked through the blinds and, sure enough, there was a lady parking her Chevy under the boughs of my Red Delicious.
This lady came last year too. She just drives her pickup off the five-lane street, over the curb, and right into my yard. I assume her genius Ocean’s Eleven plot makes use of the pickup for two reasons. One, she needs to reach higher to steal the good apples and who wants to lug a ladder around when you can stand in the bed of a truck. Work smarter, not harder, I always say. And, two, it also allows for a faster getaway, should her caper be blown.
The mastermind of The Great Apple Heist brought her daughter with her this year. I picture them planning the outing to my trees like it’s part of their end of the summer bash. I figure the conversation, as Bonnie Appleseed and her cronies sit around the campfire shooting the breeze, must go something like this.
“And then little Suzy and I pack a dinner and go out on the road, pillaging the unattended fruit trees of villagers far and near. Oh, it’s a great family activity. And educational! I like Suzy to get a taste of what “real” apples are like. Not the ones in the supermarket, but the ones you steal directly from individual home owners.”
“I want her to enjoy the whole experience like I remember when I was a kid, picking an apple right from the tree, twisting the stem as you yank it down. The proper way to drive up over the curb to get into the stranger’s yard. How to position the pickup so you can reach the best apples. Of course, little Suzy can’t even reach the pedals of the pickup yet, but she’ll get there! How to keep a look out. How to freeze like a statue if the police drive by. How to plan an escape route. The best way to offer an excuse if the apple owner happens to stumble upon you mid-theft. Do you stammer and pretend not to speak the same language, do you cry and fake apologize, do you just jump in the truck and speed off? I don’t want her freezing if that happens. I want her to be prepared. We always do a few wind sprints in the days leading up to the theft. Just so I know she can escape on foot if we get split up. ‘Cuz you know momma’s gonna put the pedal to the metal and get the heck outta Dodge when push comes to shove. And if Suzy doesn’t happen to be in the truck bed when that happens, she’s gonna need the wiles of the streets to make it home…especially carrying 10 pounds of apples.”
“Yep, Maggie, you know, the good old-fashioned American tradition of picking apples off a tree! In a stranger’s yard. Without their permission.”
Anyway, that’s how I assume a trip down Nostalgia Lane leads to larceny.
Here’s the deal, potential apple plunderers…
I don’t want to have to defend my land from pillagers.
This isn’t Middle Ages England. I don’t have a band of knights ready to defend my apples and my honor. I have a job and other interests besides cooking up plots to thwart your attempts to gain my spoils for tonight’s fresh baked apple tart.
I don’t want you to ring my doorbell to ask my PERMISSION to steal from me.
First of all the doorbell is LOUD and it always violently shakes me from my quiet little world of watching tv or playing on my laptop. Second, I don’t like confrontation. It makes me uncomfortable to tell you, “No, stranger, I would prefer you did not steal from me.” It especially makes me uncomfortable, after you’ve driven all this way with your bags and other apple stealing paraphernalia in hand. So, I’ll probably tell you to go ahead, but to not take too many. I will be mad about this though. Mad that you’re stealing my apples and mad that I gave you my permission. I will question my own gumption and it will affect my self-esteem for the next several hours. Yes, sir, your wife’s fresh batch of applesauce will have ruined my whole day.
I don’t want you to ring my doorbell and if I don’t answer, proceed to walk around back and help yourself.
Because, obviously, my failure to tell you no, because I either am not home, or am home, but reluctant to answer the door for strangers (I know “stranger, danger”, pal. I’ve been through elementary school.), implies license to steal.
When I see you in my yard, 50 feet from my house, ripping things off my trees, I feel violated. That probably shocks you. I’m making that assumption based on the fact that you feel like stealing my apples is an okey-doke thing to do in the first place.
I don’t want you to steal from me at all. Period. I want you to respect the fact that these are my apples on my apple trees in my yard.
Just because I haven’t picked them on your time table, doesn’t mean they get to be yours. I know you drive past them every day and think, “WHEN are those people going to pick those APPLES!” But, guess what? Your irritation with my apple habits, does not mean you get to take them. There is no “OWNERS IGNORERS, STRANGERS TAKERS” rule. It’s not like “FINDERS KEEPERS, LOSERS WEEPERS” in second grade.
I may not want the apples this year, but I have family and friends and people who have done me favors throughout the year who I, in turn, have promised they are welcome to pick some apples.
If you’re jogging by and you suddenly get a hankering for a good old, road-dust-covered, worm-eaten, half-ripe apple, then pick one and eat it. By all means.
If you’re out for a stroll with your hubby, and you pass by my trees and suddenly get the urge to bake a good old-fashioned apple pie, then pick a few. What do you need for a pie? 6? 8? I don’t bake, I have no idea…10? Be my guest. Grab as many as you and the hubs can stuff in your pockets.
But, for the love of all that is good in this world, do not plot your heist and then pull your pickup into my yard, under my tree and have a family field day stripping my trees bare.
This post has been years in the making. It all bubbled up tonight. I did very little editing of my stream of consciousness, so apologies for the length. If you have read this entire rant, I thank you for your support. I’d like to assure you at this point, I’m NOT actually upset. I actually find it amusing. I just needed to write this post for therapy’s sake. It was really fun for me to write and it made me feel powerful over the invaders.
To all my family and friends who I enjoy sharing my apple trees with every year, consider this your warning. The buffet has been opened, whether we like it or not, so plan your apple-picking outings accordingly.
I’d hate to see a warthog eating your apple pie.