The girls and I were going apple picking. So what if it was 90 degrees? This was guaranteed fun.
Maybe I should have turned back when they waved me into the third overflow lot and directed me to park on a rocky outcrop. Instead, I snapped open the orchard map so we could check off fun activities. This place was about SO MUCH MORE than apples.
Previous fun-loving families had stripped the low-hanging fruit like locusts, so we pushed deeper through rows of Galas, Honeycrisps, and Jonagolds in search of apples we could reach without a ladder.
We trudged by goats. We felt sad about penned-up peacocks. We explored the incongruous bamboo forest. We dodged a tractor dragging a trailer full of slack-mouthed Carolinians. The hayride, apparently.
Astrid stopped. “I’m hungry.” I handed her an apple.
“It’s covered in pesticides.”
I polished it on my shirt.
“One carcinogenic apple’s not going to kill you,” I said. “Today.”
When we had checked off every fun thing on the map, it was time to pay.
The check-out barn smelled of sweat and sorrow.
We stood in line behind all of America. A grown man nearly cried when he reached the front, only to be turned back for failure to bag his apples first. Another woman, dripping with perspiration and toddlers, learned the hard way that the orchard only took cash. A man towed a Radio Flyer wagon filled with apples. The Duggars couldn’t have eaten that many apples in a lifetime.
I slapped our apples on the counter. But we required EVEN MORE APPLE MERCHANDISE. “Hey!” I asked Apple Guy, “Can we buy all our apple stuff right here?”
“Of course!” Apple Guy said, “Whaddya need?” I ticked off fudge apples, caramel apples, cider, donuts. I handed Apple Guy all my money.
I waited, but no products appeared.
“So the cider’s over at the cider counter” – he waved at the barely visible far end of the barn – “the candied apples are in the gift shop, and you can grab the donuts in the Donut Hut.” He stuffed a handful of checkered twist-ties into my hand. “Just give these to the cashier and she’ll know you paid.”
No one was going to crack that code.
I sent Astrid to stand in the block-long donut line, twist-tie in hand. I dragged Akeyla to the gift shop (ten people in line) and the cider counter (uncountable number of people in line). Twenty minutes later, we rejoined Astrid, who hadn’t moved.
The heat index was soaring above 100 degrees. I hung my head between my knees. “Are you, like, going to pass out?” Astrid asked. “Maybe you should eat an apple.”
I was panting. “I (gasp) don’t (gasp) like (gasp) apples.”
“You don’t like apples?” Akeyla asked. “Why are we here?”
“BECAUSE. IT’S. FUN.”
“Nobody likes apples!” Astrid said, “You come for” – and here she pulled out a pair of air quotes – “the ‘experience.’ And the donuts.”
At last, toting a piping hot box of donuts and guzzling cider from the jug, we staggered up the hill in search of the cliff upon which our car was parked. I backed out, avoiding dogs, children, and a dude carrying a black backpack filled – I presume – with apples self-baking into a not-delicious pie.
On the main road Astrid spotted an apple stand. “We totally could have just gone there,” she said.
Akeyla yawned. “I really, really, really . . .” she trailed off, rubbing her eyes, “never want to go there again.”