I picked up the largest apple I could find on my front lawn and bit in to see if it was what I remembered. "Wow, that's tart! Yup. That's a crab apple all right," I winced.
When I was growing up in Connecticut, we had several crab apple trees on our front lawn. My father had bought them in the spring, despite my mother's protest.
"But I'll never be able to make anything out of those apples, honey," she'd pleaded. "They're so small!"
"Oh, they'll be producers someday," he'd said, "besides, I like their blossoms."
Dad was right. They were one of the sweetest trees in bloom. But they filled our driveway every autumn with a fruit we had no use for. So we thought.
Over the years, these small trees grew and grew and produced more and more, much to my mother's chagrin. The sour apples dropped under the cars where they attracted swarms of yellow jackets. Of course, these insects would fluster my mother something awful and prove her point that crab apples were not useful trees.
In turn, my father would strain to make a case that his decision was still a good one. He'd bite into a ripe one in October and then call to her, "They're not bad, honey!" Then he'd spit the pulp into the bushes. But it was my younger sister who had an idea for what to do with the apples.
Patty had been collecting them for weeks in a pail in the garage. It was one of her chores. But all the while, she had been itching for a game with the neighborhood kids. She'd sweep the apples from the driveway into what now became her arsenal. A week or two later, the apples would soften and were ready for ... pulp wars.
It was a game resembling dodge ball. Most of the players were our school friends who lived on streets directly behind us. In the late afternoons, they'd scramble over our stone wall and arrive with their own pailfuls of ripe apples.
Once all the kids were gathered together, they'd choose stations: Beside a row of mailboxes. Behind the split-rail fence. In the spruce tree across the street. Along Mrs. Price's stone wall.
The object of the game was to see who could reach the bottom of his pail relatively unscathed or, in other words, who could best dodge the soft, soggy apples. With a direct hit, they'd leave a penetrating orange stain.
One afternoon, Patty arrived home sporting a new definition of "victory": her shirt spotted orange and her hair full of pulp. Who could possibly call her a victor? I challenged. It didn't make any difference. Her pail was empty, her shirt was as bright as a pumpkin, and she was elated!
Should she have been? In minutes our mother was due home, and I knew she would not see "victory" written across Patty's shirt.
Quickly, I placed her in a bathtub to remove the pulp and soak the stains, wondering how many other neighborhood bathtubs were filling up at that moment.
A week later, the tell-tale T-shirt gave away the afternoon pulp wars, and our mother's telephone calls around the neighborhood confirmed that Patty had masterminded the event.
From then on, Patty was instructed to sweep the crab apples to the side of the driveway. No more pails. No more wars.
The next year, our mother had a change of heart. No, she didn't sanction the pulp wars. Instead, she celebrated a season she had no way of avoiding. She pulled down a cookbook and made what she said she would never make with those foolish apples: crab-apple jelly.
Its flavor was one Patty already knew.