There are wishing trees and trees that bring us health or babies or marriages. How we behave toward trees and shrubs helps determine our fortune. In Ireland, one never disturbs a lone bush or transplants “fairy thorns,” whitethorns, hawthorns. These lonesome shrubs don’t belong to mortals. Only loss results from removing them. The custom of nailing coins or crosses and other charms to “lucky” trees sometimes led to their demise.
Of the fortunate trees, the apple is luckiest of all among Europeans. The pear is a close second. It is first an orchard of pears that draws a wounded girl toward salvation and into her own empowerment in the marvelous fairy tale, “The Handless Maiden.” It is an oft-told and oft-visualized tale. Here is one traditional version: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm031.html, and a non-traditional artwork called “The Handless Maiden,” by contemporary artist Caz Love.
My Aunt Clara’s old, cool shed off the kitchen used to house a fruit gallery, like a small loft. Much later the room held household cleaning products. But ninety years or more ago, her mother, Sarah Jane, packed apples and pears in straw and stuffed them into the loft. They were picked before they were entirely ripe, so they didn’t turn to mush in their winter burrow.
The pears came from Howard, Clara’s father, who owned a farm outside of town. There was a pear orchard on the farm and during the Great Depression, Clara told me, Howard placed ads in the newspaper offering pears to anyone who cared to go out and pick them. FREE OF CHARGE was printed in capital letters and boldface.
There were hundreds and hundreds of pears, more than any two people could possibly eat. Sarah Jane had died not long before and neither Clara nor Howard had any inclination to pick and store them. The idea was that the pears might fill a hungry belly, or that a truly enterprising soul might pick enough to sell for desperately needed cash.
No one, absolutely no one, took up the offer. Howard ran the ad daily for a week or two, and still no takers. He was outraged. Whatever the reason for the lack of interest, it only further convinced the loveable old curmudgeon of folks’ fundamental laziness, no matter their need. He, after all, had proudly and ruthlessly pulled himself up by his bootstraps, allowing nothing to get in his way until he became the regional circuit judge, a boy straight out of Ireland. If he could do it, so could others and that, by god, was that.
I wonder the real reason people didn’t come to get the pears. The Great Depression rendered many people “handless.”
When Clara sold the farm, I was grown and briefly out of touch. Whenever my family visited Ohio, when I was small, we’d make a pilgrimage to the place, by then deserted. The pear trees, the green mossy creek, the splintered, tumble-down buildings are affixed to my memory like cobwebs.