Adeline’s Peach Tree

selective focus photography of plums in tree

Today another excerpt for your reading pleasure.  This piece was written in 2009.  This is only an excerpt of a longer piece of writing but I think it’s the most interesting part of the larger work.  It was meant to be the beginning of a novel.  Anyway, I’ll probably share with you pieces like this for the next little while as we move through the Christmas holiday season.  Salut!  Dale

Adeline’s Peach Tree

My grandmother, Patsy, could make a friend of anyone.  She’d strike up a conversation over oranges at the grocery store with a complete stranger and end up inviting the whole family over for potatoes and fried chicken that evening.  She had coffee every day with her mailman, the same one who drove four-hundred miles to attend her funeral and wept while shaking hands with her children whom he had never met before.  Yes, Grandma Patsy generally liked everyone.  But she did not like Applebottom.  It was only a rare occasion when she disliked a person but, when it happened, it was immediate and irreversible.  She would dislike them from the moment she set eyes on them and then warn others against them.  From then on, no matter what that person did that might be good or friendly, it would not change her mind.  Such was the case with Michael Applebottom.  “Better not turn your back on him,” she’d say.  It was like a kind of Cain’s curse.  Of course it wasn’t logical but she was seldom wrong. 

She used to say that a man with a low forehead would lie and a man with pointy ears was capable of evil.  Applebottom had both.  I know that if she had had the chance she would have warned Adeline against marrying him but she didn’t.  We were all still young when she passed and they buried her beside Grandpa.  “Mark my word, there’ll be many a sleepless night with that one.”  I can hear the way she would say it, too—with a certainty that would rattle your liver.  But Grandma aside, I would say that Applebottom was no different from eighty percent of men.  His only real flaw was that he could not recognize goodness in someone like Adeline but instead felt inadequate about himself without ever identifying the emotion.  If you ask me, that’s always a recipe for trouble.  No, I’d say that Applebottom was exceptionally ordinary if not for the fact he was, indeed, losing his mind.  But he could not see that either.

But the real story has nothing to do with Applebottom.  He was only the catalyst for change.  The real story is about an ordinary community and its rather ordinary citizenry, trying to live through some exceptionally difficult times.  But I suppose it all began with Applebottom at Wyndham Glenn, with a simple, yet symbolic, act he committed which would end up changing the lives of many people, his own included.  It began when he chopped down a peach tree—one of Adeline’s prized peach trees—in July of 2036.  It was a lovely tree but to Applebottom it was just a tree.  So honestly, I doubt he had any idea at the time just what effect his chopping down that tree would have on Adeline or anyone else or how it would end up changing the history of things.  Otherwise, he might not have done it.

In more correct terms, we should probably say that Applebottom was likely suffering from a mental illness, that he had become obsessive-compulsive or something like that.  But the word among the townsfolk of Datesville was that he had become a pyromaniac or schizophrenic or possibly both.  In Datesville the stories flew of Applebottom honing a double bladed ax to razor sharpness and never laying it down.  There were jokes about him taking it to the bathroom with him or bringing it to bed.  It was rather crude humor.  But there was an element of truth in it, too.  It was known that he constantly chopped firewood and, as a force of habit, carried his ax everywhere on the estate, even up and down the halls of the old mansion where he and Adeline lived.  They said he never slept, that he stayed up building and stoking fires in every hearth of his dusty mansion until the sun came up.

They said too that he was sometimes overtaken by dark moods and, at such times, ate nothing and spoke to no one—not even Adeline when she called.  When the mood fell over him, they said he would hole up in his study for days on end doing nothing except stoking the fire in the hearth and staring into its flames.  To be sure, these were troubling stories for all of us who loved Adeline and worried about her safety.  No one knew Applebottom well enough to know what he was capable of.  Of course, some of the rumors were baseless.  But there was just enough truth in them to work our nerves.  Whether or not he was a pyromaniac or schizophrenic like they said, I don’t really know.  But I do know that Applebottom had an obsession for chopping down trees.  And that was why he chopped down Adeline’s peach.

According to the Coroner’s report, Michael P. Applebottom died on July 5, 2041.  It was a tragic ending to a tragic life.  It was also a tragic ending to the Applebottom legacy.  Michael, as it turned out, was the last of the Applebottoms to live at Wyndham Glenn.  His body wasn’t discovered until four days after his death.  But it’s a wonder they found him when they did.  He might have, just as easily, lay under that oak for a year without being found.  At the time of his death, Applebottom and Adeline had been apart for five years although papers for a divorce had never been filed.  So officially they were still married when he died.  Applebottom died without a will.

As I said, it was a wonder they found him at all.  The way I heard it was:  Jennie Knowles, the postal carrier, had a package to deliver when she arrived at the Applebottom place on July 8.  Its delivery required Applebottom’s signature.  Out there the mail only came twice a week where Jennie made her rounds on her blue and white Postal Service scooter; she did not want to have to bring the package all the way out again.  Well, under normal circumstances, a carrier on a rural route would simply leave a package when no one was at home, knowing that the recipient would be expecting it.  But Applebottom had raised a stink with the Postmaster more than once when parcels that should have had his signature were left on his kitchen porch without it.  So Jennie was compelled to try to find Applebottom when she arrived with the package.  But that day she could not find him.  She did notice, however, that a sprinkler had been left running, watering a line of peach trees and the yard behind the kitchen porch and that the ground had grown soggy from over-watering.  Jennie thought this strange and reported it to the Postmaster when she returned to the office.  The Postmaster dutifully reported what Jennie had told him to the Sheriff who sent an officer out, later that afternoon, to check on things.  The officer didn’t find Applebottom either so the next day the Sheriff ordered a search party out to the Applebottom place.  This time they found him—down in a wooded hallow crushed beneath a large oak.  The Sheriff determined that Applebottom had felled the tree during a wind storm—which had passed through four days earlier—and that a powerful gust had probably changed the direction of its fall and caused the accident.  Applebottom was buried in the cemetery beside his father without a service.  But Adeline was there to say good-bye.

Most of us in Datesville accepted the Sheriff’s report and believed that Applebottom’s death had been accidental.  But others believed it was suicide.  They claim that Applebottom’s demons finally caught up with him and, tormented as he was by insanity, he deliberately stepped into the path of the falling tree and killed himself.  They say it could not have been an accident because Applebottom was way too experienced of a woodsman for it to have happened the way the Sheriff described it.  I suppose they could be right.  But no one will ever know for certain.

If there was a reason for Applebottom’s dark moods, perhaps it is rooted in the fact that Michael ended up living right where he never wanted to be—at Wyndham Glenn.  Wyndham Glenn, as it was known, was a rambling, musty old mansion along with the hundred and three-score or so acres it sat upon which made up the estate.  They used to say that the problem with the mansion was that it had lived too long and had collected too much evil over the years which only a good fire could dispel.  Set in the high country, twenty-four miles northeast of Datesville, Wyndham Glenn had always seemed out there.  In fact, locals often said things like “out there, at Applebottom’s place” when they made reference to Wyndham Glenn.  This was true even though all of the other families living in that part of the county were thought of and accepted as locals.  But the Applebottoms themselves were never quite embraced as natives of Jefferson County, despite the fact that they had lived there as long as anyone else.  The Applebottoms had always been considered outsiders.  But to understand how that could be, you would have to know more about the family’s history.

6 replies on “Adeline’s Peach Tree”

  1. Is this fiction or a true incident ? Seemed to me like local history. If it is fiction, then it is very well written I must say 🙂

    1. This story (what there is of it) is entirely, 100% fiction. I made it up and it is not based on anything I’ve ever heard before. It is a high compliment that you believe it could have been “local history”. That, of course, was the intention. Thank you so much for this comment; it gives me insight into the effectiveness of this style of writing of which I’ve done quite a bit.

      1. Oops! I must amend the 100% comment I made. The characteristic of liking or disliking a person on sight given to the Grandmother Patsy character at the beginning of this piece and her bias against men with “low brows” and “pointy ears” does derive from my own paternal grandmother who had this quality. So that part was based on a real person’s personality. The part, too, about her friendship with her mail carrier and him attending her funeral 400 miles away is also true. Please accept my apology. But the rest is fiction.

    1. I’ll try to meet your request. This is one of those stories where I wrote a good deal of material at different times, trying different approaches and different voices in the telling of the story. Some of the pieces are longer and some are more polished. This particular piece is shorter and less polished. I’ll see what I can do. Thank you for asking!

      1. Wonderful ! I will be looking forward to more literary pieces from you 🙂 Till then Merry Christmas !

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