Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Apple Charlie; a Memory

Bill Grover at Apple Charlies

I just wanted to see some pumpkins!

The farm is well taken care of by the new owners.

I carefully scanned the pavement looking for signs of Mom left on the driveway.

Coming back from Michigan, I again thought of the life that was made for me there, and all that has changed because I left home at seventeen (and didn't look back). The years of separation and absence have provided an unbroken memory that continues to be alive in me. Though the events and relationships are long gone, they exist completely intact in my memory.  I continue to feel close to people I have not seen for three decades. My unbridled affection is surprising because I'm essentially a stranger who has unexpectedly popped up from the haze of the 1970's. 

Bill is a friend from Huron High School. He is connected to the fall season the same way apple cider, orange pumpkins, and leaves caught in the wind or crunching under our feet are connected. He was a football player and champion wrestler who celebrated with us after the games with pizza (and sometimes beer) in Flatrock. I was a drum major, flag captain, clarinetist, all around band member and team supporter. He was protective of my sisters and me, and I believe he had a special deal with our father, Richard, to guard our honor; however, an unforeseen event wedged a terrible break in our friendship and we could no longer be friends.

It was my sixteenth birthday party and all of my family, friends, and their friends were there. The house was open, and traffic flowed in teen party fashion. People were drinking, smoking, and talking too loud. My sister came up in a car with her boyfriend. She had disappeared for many months, running off with her older boyfriend in the middle of the night, packing her clothes in large black plastic garbage bags and storing them behind the evergreen bushes that lined the front porch. Her arrival to my party was tense and unexpected. My father was quietly ignoring this turn of events. The couple was arguing in the car, perhaps about coming in the house or leaving before there was trouble. The discussion became physical and one of my cousins ran into the house yelling, "He's beating her up and she's in labor!" My father sprung into fierce action; he ran outside, grabbed the man and pulled him out of the car. My sister started screaming for everything to stop. However, it was too late and a fight became the main event. Yelling party goers crowded around shouting, "Fight!" Bill tried to break the two men apart, but it was impossible. They rolled into the field next door and it started to get bloody. Mom went into action, picked up a two by four board, and slammed it down just when they flipped over. She nearly knocked Dad unconscious, and it was all he could do to maintain awareness. I was appalled at her mistake! "She almost killed Dad", I thought. Mom came running back with a hammer, and I blocked her by grabbing her hand, "Don't you dare!" I was ready to get physical. Suddenly, lights were flashing, and people scattered. The police broke up the fight, and began taking reports from witnesses. "Who started it?" was the critical question. When Bill was asked he reported what he had seen, and so Dad was taken off to jail. Later, Bill stood as a witness for my sister's boyfriend, and that is why we could not longer be friends. It was as if he disappeared. He was completely removed from all interactions with us, all contact. My father felt he was disloyal to our family because he told the police exactly what he had seen, and in Bill's version, Dad was the angry aggressor. My sister went to the hospital, had my nephew, and decided to stay with her boyfriend because children need a father. Mom went to the hospital to be with her, and later helped her get settled but Dad remained stoically detached. He felt betrayed by family, friends, and society. A father is supposed to defend his child, isn't he?

The farm is well cared for now, with the exception of the circle driveway, which somehow seems appropriate. I stood looking down the drive for several minutes trying to find some remnant of my mother, a darkened area, a bit of the chalk that outlined her body but all that remained was broken cement. I feel sorry I challenged her when she was "defending" Dad. She wasn't ever a bystander, patiently waiting and helpless. She was a powerful participant- abet with a poor aim. She continued to be brave, running out to try to help her partner, Christine, after she was shot by our neighbor, Brooks. I wish she had stayed inside and waited for the police to arrive. I wish she were still alive. I wish we had just celebrated her birthday on Halloween, instead of her being murdered at fifty five years old.  Dad made peace with my sister and she escaped the domestic abuse situation. (He died when he was forty-nine.) Dad never knew about Mom's lifestyle changes.

I don't know if Bill remembers this story; we didn't talk about it. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know that he was "Apple Charlie" -or rather that was the name his father used. My cousin, Tammy, was just taking me to an apple orchard and a place to see a pumpkin patch. (Living in the tropics makes me yearn for signs of seasons sometimes.) We drove up to Apple Charlies, I got out and started taking lots of poor quality photographs with my cell phone, then I started chatting with one of the workers, "So who is Apple Charlie? What's his last name? What's his first name? I mean, people don't call him, Apple, right?" I was just bothering a stranger with questions when I discovered that this was Bill Grover's place. I had forgotten his family owned an apple orchard. I wondered if he wanted to see me again. I decided to be bold, and when I saw him heading into his house, I called out, "Bill! Hey, Bill!" I'm glad I did. I feel as though a new bookend has been placed on that past disturbing phase of my life. When I left, he said, "Thanks for stopping by and looking me up." Bill's okay. I'm okay. Life goes on.

Reprinted from Oasis Writing Link (TM)