Last Thorn Apple

Red, sweet, juicy thorn apple/berries shown on a branch with green leaves and a large thorn. Thorn apple are also called hawthorn.

Pushing his dinner plate back, Daddy addressed my oldest brother. “I’m going to use dynamite to get rid of that big old thorn apple tree in the center of the cow pasture this afternoon. I need your help in clearing away rocks and roots after the explosion. I plan to plow that field next year.”

Nodding, my brother Casper stood up and left the house with Daddy. Hating to have anything changed or come to an end on the farm, I turned to my sister Mary and questioned, “Why is he getting rid of that tree?”

With her seven-year advantage over me, Mary confidentially explained, “The thorn apple tree is the last one on our farm. It used to have large, sweet fruit. But for the last few years the apples on it have been small and wormy.” I nodded. My brother Billy had picked some for me once. They were more like berries than apples and although bright red, they were bitter along with being wormy.”

Mom went to the basement to wash clothes. My sisters Betty and Mary cleared the table and ran water in the sink, so I slipped quietly out the back door of the house. For once I remembered to not let the screen door slam behind me. I wandered into the farm’s orchard and when I came to my favorite crabapple tree, clambered up into one of its branches.

Gazing at Mom’s nearby, well-weeded garden, my mind pictured the thorn apple tree’s extremely long thorns and craggy branches. I fretted about the world losing its last thorn apple tree. The sound of dynamite exploding announced the deed had been done.

I eventually realized that the thorn apple tree Daddy blew out of the cow pasture with dynamite wasn’t the last thorn apple in the world. It was just the last one on our family farm. That made me feel a bit better.

Although I hated seeing change in my life, I discovered that nothing ever stays the same. Most changes from one moment to the next don’t seem like much, but it is astounding when you add together enough moments to equal ninety plus years.  

My mother was born in 1906 and she died in 2005. My children and I marveled over how much the world had changed since she was born.  When Mom was born cars, tractors, jets and moon rockets did not exist. Mom’s childhood home had no indoor plumbing, was lit by kerosene lamps and heated by a wood-fire stove. Housewives had no vacuums, laundry machines, dryers, telephones, computers or any other electrical kitchen equipment.

The 1950 world I was born into wasn’t as primitive as Mom’s world in 1906, but being born mid-century has allowed me to witness some very interesting changes that affected my life.

If Daddy hadn’t hated horses so much, I’d probably have seen him farm with work horses. As it turned out, the minute he could, he exchanged his horses for an M series John Deere tractor. Unfortunately, when pulling too heavy a load, it sometimes reared up on its ‘hind’ wheels like a startled horse.

I was five years old when my family was given access to the world when our first telephone was installed. We learned to recognize our calls by the long and short rings, to know that there wasn’t privacy on a party-line and many people were rubberneckers.

Every local farm stored loose hay in their barns when I was a small child. Farms all had hay rack elevators, hay forks, pulleys and mow tracks. During my middle school years, Daddy tried chopped hay but then bought a baler. The hay we brought into the barn changed forms, but it still held the same sweat equity.

As a nursing assistant in 1969, the hospital where I worked didn’t have fitted sheets. One unit had stationary, high, surgical beds. We tested a diabetic’s urine to gauge how much insulin they needed instead of blood. Computers for ordinary people were unheard of. Automatic blood pressure machines were rumored to exist, but some people laughed at the absurd possibility. By the time I retired, I was constantly using a laptop computer and an automatic blood pressure machine. Some of my patients were the ones who had laughed.

As a child, I mourned what I thought was the destruction of the last thorn apple tree in the world. I didn’t realize that some things were meant to end or change. Life is all about flexibility, learning to transform, adjust and work with what is available.

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