I'm an early riser, but I don't really wake up until I take the first wet and wonderful bite of an apple. It's a shame to associate that first bite with Adam and Eve and original sin because every morning--we keep ourselves supplied--I think of it as almost totally redemptive. It's something I do every day, an almost religious ritual.
The first recorded use of the old adage, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away" is in some obscure newspaper in 1866. I would have thought the old saw had a much longer and more storied history. Maybe the happy rhyme it employs has kept it alive; but among proverbs, for some blame reason, "an apple a day" is one of the most well-known.
We've got names for those of us who spend too much time in medical clinics, and most of those names are rather unsavory. Most people would just as soon stay away, if for no other reason than today even a half-hour "how are ya?" is going to cost an arm and a leg. Democrats and Republicans would agree that really there's no such thing as "affordable care."
What's more, while an apple isn't toothpaste, that first bite lights everything up, no matter how dark the morning. One good healthy chomp and the hayloft in your bed mouth turns to something out of Disney. I've been eating an apple every morning, first thing, for years. A morning apple is a blessing for which I'm thankful every day.
But this morning's is special. It's beat up, pockmarked like nothing you can buy in a store because it grew up just behind the house with big, fat blue jays. Apple trees aren't rare; lots of farm places still have 'em. But I never had one, not once.
So this apple is literally mine. Where the birds got at 'em, they're black and blue and beat on; but inside, they're a tart. This one too--it's wonderful, just like the pheasants we ate last fall. Misshapen and beat on though they are, these apples are what we produced ourselves, like the flood of cherry tomatoes still ripening on the vines outside.
Agriculture is life blood where I live. Sioux County, Iowa, produces more corn and soy beans, more pork and beef, more chicken and eggs, and more milk than just about any county in the entire nation. In some ways, a ton of the food I eat is "ours." But it's not mine.
The tart little apple that's cleaning my teeth as we speak is. It's from the tree in our own backyard.
Years ago, I did a book of stories about the lives of Laotian refugees who'd come to this country after the Vietnam War. They had to leave because their having sided with us made life in their homeland unlivable. I'd ask them to talk about their families, their parents, their grandparents--about what they were like, what they did; and it didn't take long for me to learn that that second question--"what did your parents do?"--carried a cultural arrogance that I wielded, unwittingly, because I was presuming that they'd answer with a profession--maybe masonry or factory work or farming.
That didn't always happen. Sometimes--and I had to learn the hard way--sometimes their grandparents' occupation was just staying alive, keeping themselves and their kids fed, getting firewood, scrounging for food, selling whatever goods they could buy then squeezing out maybe a nickel's profit.
I was embarrassed to have to come to understand the fact that there are people in the world whose occupation, whose job, when they rise in the darkness, as I've just done, is to begin a day's work of simply trying to stay alive. Some people don't push grocery carts because there are no grocery stores.
Chances are, this morning, those people don't have an apple, not even one as pockmarked as mine; but if they do, my guess is that it's even far more precious to them than this one of mine is to me.