A Day — Baked Apple Time Machine

Back in Fall 2008, my life went seriously sideways. Not on its own, but…

What I did to fix it, moment by moment, was write. I started a blog on Blogger, a private blog since I didn’t want anyone I loved hurt because someone THEY loved had hurt me. I got all that out relatively quickly, and was on the way out of the hole (psychologically, emotionally, anyway. Financially just happened rather drastically.

I then sat down each day to write one good memory from my life. I did this because of Dostoyevsky having written — I believe in Crime and Punishment but I don’t know for sure — that one good memory from childhood could save a man from hell.

I’ve decided that 1) I need to work on my novel rather than responding to daily prompts that don’t “prompt” me, 2) some of those blog posts were good. So from now on, if I don’t like a the Daily Prompt, I’ll put up a good memory instead — and use the promptless morn for my own work.

Here’s a taste…

Baked Apple Time Machine

Last night I got home a little early from school, about 6 as opposed to 8. It was great to set the dogs free so they could run and play for a while, and to have time to make a real meal, though this time of the month there’s not an inspiring assortment of things in the fridge.

There were apples. I thought of Waldorf salad, but no walnuts. Then I thought, “Bake them the way you learned to do when you were 8 years old.” I do not think I’ve eaten apples cooked this way outside of pie since I left home at 18!

So, I sliced them, added sugar, cinnamon, flour and butter, mixed it together and put the apples the oven beside a plate of enchiladas. They came out great, but most wonderful was the fragrance. An aroma can be a time machine, and this one took me to Agency, Iowa and the Fall of 1962.

Agency is a historical place where, in the early 19th century, there was an Indian trading post. It is the burial place of a famous Indian chief, Wapello. My grandfather’s brother had a farm in Agency, and his son, Dan Beall, my mother’s cousin, still lived in the little town of about 600 people. Dan and his wife, Frieda, lived in a put-together-in-pieces, wood-paneled, little white house on some lovely green acres with a pond in the back yard in which my brother and I caught crayfish and minnows. Dan’s profession was house painting. He was completely bald and said it was because a bucket of paint had fallen on his head. My brother and I believed him.

There were apple trees filled with fruit, golden delicious, right from the tree, sweet and crisp, so different from what I can find in the store today. Best of all were crab apples, tart and wild. We filled bushel baskets full of windfall fruit, picked through to find the good ones, apples the worms had not eaten and those not bruised and rotten, and took them to the kitchen. Frieda was boiling down these apples for apple butter and apple sauce which she was frantically “putting up” before the moment passed. That week the whole house — the whole world — steamed with the fragrance of cinnamon, of apples cooking.

We went everywhere my grandfather had ever mentioned to my mom, along the road from Batavia, where a sister lived, to his brother’s farm in Agency. Dan pointed out the culvert my grandfather had helped build and a place to climb over a fence from which mom’s oldest sister had fallen as a little girl. We drove to Keokuk, to see the big white farm house where my grandfather was born and had grown up not far from the Mississippi. This was during my mom’s antique collecting period, and in a dusty antique store I was told to choose two salt cellars as memories of the day.

The landscape was haunted with my family’s history. So vivid were the stories coming from the front seat on the drive home, that in the twilight I imagined I saw the ghost of my grandfather — a man I had barely known — a young man, walking along the road in a world that had yet to see a car. He was born in 1870 and Iowa was still the wild west.