There's an apple orchard not far from here. I found it a couple years ago when we came back from California. I was driving down a country lane, the kind where if you are not paying attention you find yourself head-to-head with another car, and need to back up into a passing place. I saw a hand-written sign that said "Apples" and pulled over. There weren't many apple orchards in San Diego, and I thought the girls would enjoy seeing the origin of one of their favourite fruits.
We pulled into the farm and made our way to the old barn, a barrel of rainwater gleaming in the waning September sun and a whisper of Autumn in the warm breeze. As we timidly walked in through the open door, the heavy sweet smell of ageing fruit engulfed us.
"Are you here for some apples?" a voice seeped out of the shadows, and I could just make out a wisp of a man, wearing dusty overalls and a cap. I could not quite place his accent. It reminded me of my father's father, who was born in Slovenia and emigrated to Ohio in the lead up to the Great War.
The old man stepped out of the shadows and introduced himself. I didn't quite catch his name, and being too polite to ask him to repeat it, I christened him the apple man.
"Yes, the girls love apples, what kind do you have?" He proudly showed me his wares, reddish gold Braeburns, pale green Pippins, and golden brown Burford Yellows, all lovingly arranged in trays.
"Would you like to try one?" he said as he ruffled Alexandra's hair, her eyes wide and head nodding. He picked a large shiny red one, and with a paring knife cut into the yellowish white flesh.
Is that an apple, mummy?" Alexandra asked as she pointed to a golden fruit with the telltale hour-glass shape. I guess to her it looked like an odd shaped apple. Alexandra is my tricky eater. She is prejudice against vegetables, and will only eat cucumber and select fruits, such as strawberries and raspberries. I gave her a pear once, one of those rock hard ones that had been picked long before it should have been and travelled thousands of miles before it landed at our local Tesco, but she spat it out. Reading my mind, the apple man picked up the soft perfectly ripe, yet still firm pear and handed it to Alexandra. She promptly devoured the whole fruit, seeds and all.
I visited the apple man many times that Autumn. His wife went to visit their son in New Zealand, leaving him to fend for himself, and I felt a duty to bring him strudels and cakes, all products of his apples. My father came to visit and I took him to meet the apple man, and the two men, of similar ages, chatted for ages. We learned all about him, that he was an academic and a forerunner of sustainable organic farming and that his text books were still used in universities worldwide. His family lost everything in the Iranian revolution. They froze his assets. Those that weren't Muslim weren't welcome. He never dared to visit his home country again.
Winter came and my trips to the orchard waned. He left a bag of apples at my doorstep in February, the last of the winter fruits, and I made apple cakes with cinnamon and brown sugar. I meant to bring them by for him to try, but I never did.
That was my last bag of fruit from the apple man. In May, a neighbour asked if I knew that Iraj had passed away. Iraj? Was that his name? My heart dropped and I wept for the friend I called the apple man.
Photo credit: Mexican Wave