Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Autumn/Fall( 08/27/09)
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Adrienne Beaumont reclined beneath the thinning canopy of a black walnut tree and rested her head against its rough bark. Nostalgic memories stirred like the crisp fall leaves currently swirling in mini whirlpools around her feet, transporting her several years back in time.
“Papa, why are the black walnuts all dark and squishy on the outside?”
In her mind’s eye, she imagined her father holding up a blackened work glove like a paint-smeared baseball catcher’s mitt. “Well Adie, those mushy old hulls only ask us to be willing to dig for what’s inside.” He grinned. “Our chocolate fudge and cranberry scones next Christmas will be extra special with nuts added, but we have to do our part – which gets pretty messy, and takes time and more than a little bit of patience.”
“But they’re all yucky. How do we get the good part out?”
Her father grabbed the handle of his overflowing bucket and walked toward the gravel driveway. “First we spread these out and drive over ‘em with the car - back and forth, back and forth - to squish most of the rotten hulls off. Then we wash ‘em” - he mimicked a firefighter gripping a fabricated, super-powerful hose - “and then lay ‘em out single file on the basement floor to dry. In a couple of months we crack ‘em open with a hammer, and pick the nutmeats with those sharp little metal nut picks that used to be your grandma’s.” Adrienne remembered using those picks to extract pecans sent from her cousins in California the previous year. “We’ll sort for any itty bitty leftover woody pieces of nut shells, and then they’ll be ready.” He waved his free black-gloved hand, tossed a kiss into the air with it, and cocked his head with flourish characteristic of a French chef. “Voila! Delicieux!”
This flashback reappeared as if it had happened only yesterday: clear, dry, clean air; sunshine splattering through crinkly leaves hanging from the tree; black nuts dotting the ground; smells of rot and decay tinged with pleasant pungency; visions of goodness mysteriously hiding beneath an untouchable exterior; optimism, enthusiasm and energy oozing from her father.
She breathed deeply of the autumnal briskness, invigorated and encouraged by this image from her past with its symbolic lesson: fruit-bearing involves growth and waiting, refinement and maturation, separation and cleansing, and ultimately core-level exposure. It has to do with baring-of-the-essential; unmasking and revealing the heart where transformation and new life resides.
Her right leg detected the ground’s autumn chill through her jeans, while her left lay lifeless like a stiff, unfeeling log – the victim of a car accident the previous year. She brushed her hands across the dry grass, prickly and yet forgiving, and gazed into the biting clarity of a cloudless sky.
“Thanks for bringing me to the park today, “ she said to her friend, Elizabeth. “It’s glorious here – a piece of heaven.”
“Totally! I love it, too,” Elizabeth replied. Brown, oval-shaped leaves floated beneath a definitively seasonal backdrop: V-shaped, honking geese. “I’m glad you wanted to come.”
Adrienne closed her eyes momentarily and envisioned a tiny lime-green walnut as it would have been the previous spring, hanging high on the branches of the tree. She imagined it secure and sheltered among summer’s green leaves while developing through sultry, wind-swept days and soft, moonlit nights. Then she saw it ripening until the inevitable moment of detachment and brokenness – that fatal day of its violent crash to the ground when everything changed.
“You know what, Liz?” She rubbed her useless leg and sighed. “I guess I’ve finally learned life isn’t about hanging around in the treetops forever; there’s a time to grow up; to come down to earth and get to business.” She looked at Elizabeth, hoping for confirmation. “A season to bear ripe fruit – even if you still feel like a kid.”
“Absolutely.” Elizabeth nodded, then paused and added, “Your perspectives are awesome, Adie. I’m your biggest fan, you know.” She looked at her watch, stood, brushed the dirt from her legs, and pushed Adrienne’s wheelchair into position. “It’s about time to go.”
Elizabeth positioned her forearms underneath Adrienne’s armpits. “Ready … one, two, three … up …”
Adrienne pushed with her right leg, dragging her paralyzed one. Elizabeth pulled from above; their bodies labored together as one unit rather than two. Shafts of afternoon light streamed through the trees to spotlight dependent trust coupled with loving compassion: examples of the Father’s ripe fruit.
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