It’s early morning and the days are getting shorter fast, yet I sit and stare. I feel weary and weak.
What difference does another jar of jam really make? I am too wimpy to take anything else on, I think. Still, I ask the Bearded One, quietly. “Do you want to go pick Lou’s plums with me?”
I know the Bearded One is racing to get the next round of deck staining finished, and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, but he says he’s up for it. “A plum date,” he says. “Got to work on the plumming.”
My blood perks up a bit. I get up from the couch.
“Do you want a picking jug?” I ask.
“NO,” he says, then immediately, “YES.”
This is his usual pattern of which I rarely witness such a blatant display, and he knows it, and we both smile. Not an actual laugh or anything, but I feel light at the top of the rabbit hole I’ve fallen into this weekend.
I lash the milk jug to my waist with the ribbon looped through the handle and pull on my boots. I fetch a couple of 5-gallon buckets and the apple picker pole from the barn.
The goats watch me and follow me down the hill, hoping for a plum. Which I pick from our tree and give to each of them through the fence. Their fleece is thickening up fast. I consider starting to brush them now, to avoid the dreadlocks. Nah.
LaLa takes the entire plum into his mouth and works it, chewing and shifting the skin and sweet pulp around in his mouth for a full minute or two. Then, behold, he spits the pit through the fence a full five feet, like a watermelon seed. A hilarious direct hit to my sour mood.
This morning is cloudy, but it’s supposed to be sunny this afternoon. We walk the road north to Lou’s place and make note of the potholes we’ll need to fill soon.
I adjust the 10-foot long picker pole I’m carrying. Lou’s is the one thing on this road that hasn’t changed, I think. He’s 86-years-old and getting frail, but he’s still here. Momma Goose moved out. Hansel and Gretel and Batman started their homeschooling elsewhere this week. Ruby is dead, His Majesty has gone back to college, and all 235 wedding jams are gone.
The Bearded One whistles as we walk up Lou’s driveway, but we can hear his TV and he said for us to just come on over and pick the whole orchard anytime. “It’s either you or the deer!” he said. He lives alone. We met his extended family this summer, when they were up from California. We have their phone numbers now, and Lou knows to call us if he has an emergency.
We’ll leave him one of the jugs full of the best plums, apples and pears and a couple of pints of jam — Rhuberry and Peach. He couldn’t decide when I asked him which he wanted. “Surprise me,” he said.
Lou’s yard is full of plant experiments, old trucks, mowers and various project leftovers. His little orchard circle behind the house is overgrown with weeds, the mason bee canisters moldy and quiet.
Ripe fruit — dark purple plums, red and yellow apples, golden pears — hang from every tree limb.
“These plums are gorgeous!” I reach up with the pole picker and pry the high ones off into the pronged basket. The Bearded One picks the apples and pears.
Sap droplets ooze from the tops of the juicy plums, and I pick two and three at a time, dropping them into my milk jug, filling it a dozen times.
As we leave with two full buckets, Lou hears us and opens the front door. He smiles and waves a plastic bag and calls out, “WAIT!”
We stop and the Bearded One jogs over and retrieves the bag, and points out our gift on the porch. Lou smiles big and hollers, “Thank you!” to me.
I see that the plastic bag is full of jam jars, all carefully cleaned. There are the metal bands and plastic tops I gave him to use instead of the metal lids. Everything washed and ready for another use. “You’re welcome!” I call back. “Thank YOU!”
The date is over. I’ve got jam to make, I think, and rush home.