I heard a crashing sound of breaking plates over my head and then a child sobbing as a woman started screaming. I cringed wondering what we had moved into. Jim and I, recently retired, had sold our big suburban house and moved to a small condo where we could be nearer our daughter, Lisa, and her family.
It had been hard moving from the older Colonial home where we had raised our two children but Jim wanted the freedom to travel and I, of course, wanted to be as near as possible to our grandchildren.
It was a good solution all around. We still hadn’t met any of our neighbors who lived in the two story, stucco covered complex. There must have been 50 separate condos, varying in size with studios and one to two bedroom units. We had a two bedroom so stacked above our head was another just like it. I knew a young mother and father lived there with a little boy about three who was cute as the dickens, and I guess he also was a dickens of a hand full. Both parents worked—I saw them leave in the morning and come home in the evening. They seemed to take turns taking Andy to day care. I didn’t know the parents’ names but I certainly knew Andy’s. When they were home it was a constant litany of “Andy, no.” “Andy, don’t do that.” “Oh, Andy, what have you done now?”
He seemed to be a perfect little boy with reddish brown hair, green eyes, and a sprinkle of freckles across his chubby cheeks. And as most perfect boys, mischievous. The parents were probably good parents, just overstressed as most young people seemed to be nowadays. I know, I know. I sound like an old fogy.
When the noise above started, I was concerned. “Oh, dear, I wonder if I should go up and see if there is something I can do.”
Jim looked up from his paper and just shook his head. “Now Martha, it’s none of our business and I haven’t seen any bruises on the kid, so it’s probably OK up there.” Jim tended to be more laid back than I was.
I didn’t do anything and the noises eventually stopped. But I worried about it. I read all the stories about child abuse and my heart ached for the little ones who were hurt. I didn’t think Andy was being abused. It was more like an overworked mother forgetting to smell the roses and enjoy her young son as much as she could. If there was just something I could do to help--without interfering of course.
The next day, a beautiful, October Sunday, Lisa and her husband Mark with their two daughters picked me up to go apple picking out in the country. Sophia, our older granddaughter bustled in, herding younger Susan over to Grandpa Jim. They both begged him to go with them. He pretend scowled and said he had enough apple-picking for a life time and he was going to stay home and enjoy a better fall activity, watching his beloved Chicago Cubs. I knew it would be best if I wasn’t around to hear his comments on their usual style of playing. The girls laughed and each pulled on one of my hands to urge me out the door. I think Mark might have enjoyed watching the game, too, but he knew he still had family responsibilities. So he played good daddy, maybe thinking of the day when he too would be retired.
We had a wonderful outing and they insisted I take home a bushel of red, sweet smelling apples. “What on earth are your father and I going to do with all these apples?” I protested. Lisa just smiled, her brown eyes sparkling, and said, “I know you love to make pies so here’s a great opportunity.” Mark seemed to perk up a bit at that thought.
While Lisa and the kids waited in their SUV, he carried the basket into the condo and set the apples on the kitchen floor near the oven. I guess he thought that would be a good hint. He muttered a “Hi, Bye” to Jim as he rushed back to his girls. I know he was looking forward to watching the Cubs game on tape. He didn’t even want Jim to tell him how the game had turned out.
I looked at the apples, sitting there so innocently. “Oh, Jim, I don’t want to make all these pies.” I ran my fingers thru my short, salt and pepper hair. “I’m sort of sick of making pies. Does that make me a bad grandma?”“
You’re a great pie baker, but you don’t have to bake if you don’t want to.” Jim was in a good mood. The Cubs had won and he really didn’t care what I did or didn’t do.
I knew there was no way we could eat all those apples ourselves. As I got into bed that night and flipped the calendar over to the next day, and saw the date I could never forget, I also got an idea of how to get rid of the apples.
The next day, I drafted Jim to help me wash and polish those apples until they shone. And then we hustled them outside next to our building’s front door. Of course I made sure to tell him how big and strong he was to help me carry all those apples. But I stopped short of telling him he “looked like he’d been working out,” which I understand is a phrase young women use now days to flatter men.
I unfolded a green and white lawn chair so I could sit next to the apples with a big cardboard sign saying “Free Apples”. It’s amazing what a free offer will do to some people. Some were suspicious, “Did management say you could do this?” “What do you really want, if I take an apple?” But many people, especially with children, were happily surprised. Some even chatted with me for a few minutes, so I got to meet some neighbors. Of course, I was really hoping to see Andy and his mom.
They finally came home. The little boy was red faced and tear stained. His mother’s hair was mussed up and her clothes twisted around as if she might have been wrestling with him. Andy’s face lit up when he saw the bushel of apples. He started to run over to them, but his mother jerked him back. “Mind your manners, Andy.” She started to apologize to me, but I laughed and said, “Boys will be boys, and I am giving them away. We got too many at the apple picking place yesterday and I thought my neighbors might like them.”
“This is so nice of you to do this. My husband, Justin, loves pie but it seems like I never have time to do any baking.”
“It’s tough doing as much as moms have to do nowadays.” I agreed. “Andy, if it’s OK with your Mom why you don’t pick out three perfect apples for her and your dad and yourself.”
He glanced up at her and she said, “Sure, Andy. Just be careful and don’t knock them out of the basket.” She looked like him with her freckles and reddish hair and seemed more like his older sister than his mother. She held out her hand to shake mine. “I’m Linda Cornell. It’s nice to meet you Mrs.….”
I smiled. “I guess I’m so busy giving away apples, I forgot my own manners. I’m Mrs. Lewis but just call me Martha.”
As Andy carefully rooted around in the still half-filled basket, I chatted with Linda. I hoped to make her feel better about her darling, but rambunctious son.
“He’s such a cute little boy. I bet he’s smart, too.”
She smiled, “He is smart. He was talking in sentences when he was only 18 months old. But he’s so active. It seems he never walked. He runs everywhere and climbs anything he can.”
“But he’s a good boy. He looked at you for approval when I said he could pick out some apples.”
She agreed, “Yes, most of the time he is a good boy. It’s just that sometimes I’m a little tired and can’t be as patient as I’d like.”
“It’s hard being a parent, but they grow up so quick. One day they’re in diapers and before you know it they’re walking down the aisle.”
“I know, I know,” she laughed. “When toilet training seemed to go on forever, everyone told me that no one walked down the aisle wearing diapers.” She paused, thinking. “You seem to know a lot about kids, do you have some?”
“We raised two, a boy and a girl. Lisa and her family live nearby which is why we moved here.”
“And where does your son live?”
I couldn’t help the tears that came automatically to my eyes. “Luke died many years ago overseas.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, what happened, if you don’t mind talking about it?” She put her hand to her mouth and glanced quickly over at Andy.
“It was during Desert Storm in 1991 and he was 19 years old.” I had told the story so many times, I could do it without sobbing but it still was a painful memory. “He and 27 other American soldiers were killed when their barracks in Dhahran was destroyed by an Iraqi Scud missile.”
She looked at me, her own tears starting. “That must be the most horrible thing in the world. A child dying.”
“Yes, it is.” I nodded, thinking of the sorrow that had never completely left me. “Luke would have been 40 years old today. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. But I try to remember the good times. How thrilled I was the day he was born. His hee-haw kind of laugh and his crazy antics and I thank God I had him in my life for 20 blessed years.”
Linda looked over at Andy and whispered, “I think I know what you mean.”
Andy turned to us with a big grin, his hands together, carefully holding three beautiful apples. “Hey, apple lady, are these OK to take?”
“Of course, they are, dear. And you know what, that’s what my son called me too. The apple lady, because he loved to eat my apple pies and I loved to make them for him.”