The Winter Banana Apple Tree

"The Winter Banana Tree" by Cheryl Cheeks © 2012, Charcoal on Paper

Back in 1916 my great-grandfather William planted a Winter Banana apple tree in the backyard of the family homestead. Over the next 69 years the tree provided for four generations of my family.

Season after season the heirloom tree blossomed Winter Bananas; even after Hurricane Freda ravaged its branches in 1962. I remember the sadness in my Gramma’s voice when she’d talk about Hurricane Freda and how the winds ripped branches from the Winter Banana tree. Her voice would crack with despair as she relived those moments every time she told the story. “We almost lost a family member that day,” she’d say, as we sat at the kitchen table gazing out the window at the tree in the backyard.

The year the Winter Banana tree died came as a shock, despite the fact we all secretly knew it was coming. I suppose it was this way because the tree was a monumental fixture in all of our lives. Almost 70 years of life spent sharing its bounty, its shade, and the birds it attracted left an immortal mark in the minds of four generations of family.

In 1985, the Winter Banana blossomed one apple. Gramma spoke in hushed tones about what this meant for the beloved tree. No twigs. No leaves. Just one apple.

It was a sight to behold, that lone apple dangling from the darkened limb of the aged tree. The tree poured every ounce of its dwindling vitality into that one apple. Every cell drained to provide; not a single breath wasted on producing leaves.

The waxy yellow apple with its faint red blush hung there like the physical embodiment of a low, resounding clarion call marking the end of an era. The apple hung in our minds like a question mark.

When?

It was early November and I was sitting with my Gramma at the kitchen table when a loud crack drew our attention outside. There, on the frosted lawn underneath the tree, lay the branch from which the lone apple had hung.

The weight of life in the apple must have been too much for the dying tree. The branch cracked and fell, sending the apple rolling into the middle of the yard. Where the branch was once connected, was a gaping hole in the side of the tree.

The Winter Banana tree was dead; hollowed and rotten on the inside.

It’s the only time I’d ever see my Gramma cry. With tears running down her cheeks, she went outside to collect the apple from the yard below. She brought the apple inside and without saying a word, she sliced it in two and offered me half.

We sat there in the kitchen, softly savouring the sweet meat in silence. At seven years old, I felt like a cannibal; eating the flesh of a fallen family member. Flesh given to us from the Winter Banana’s dying breath. I’ve never tasted meat so sweet and succulent since.

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