Grammy was heating a kettle to serve us her famous herbal tea, and I wanted to show Jenny the garden. My grandmother was a well-known herbalist and owned her own business, “Mail Box Seeds.” Her seeds were rare and came from all over the world. All of the seeds were harvested from her back yard garden.
The crown jewel of the garden was the apple tree. My grandfather had planted the root stock and grafted it with several varieties of heirloom apples. Through the years he would graft new scions of apple strains, and there were over twenty varieties of apples on this one tree. His favorites were Gravensteins and Winesaps, but I always liked the sour Crabapplies.
“Grampy” had passed away two years earlier from a lung disease caused from working around asbestos in the Alameda Naval shipyards. He was a skilled carpenter and gunsmith (Jack of all trades). Collecting wood and crafting it into useful furniture was another hobby. His nick-name was “Slim,” a reference to his tall thin stature. He designed and built a redwood table around the apple tree. It was a beautiful place to sit, relax and crunch on a vintage apple.
Jenny and I went down the outside stairwell and followed the path to the back of the property . . . the tree was gone! I was stunned; it took my breath away. The table was there with a sawed-off stump protruding from the middle like a headstone. I was choked up and couldn’t speak. The church bells at St. Joseph Basilica (a block away) started their quarter hour clock chime melody. It was the full cycle of quarter hour chimes and then four rings for the hour. We silently went back to the house for tea. Grammy explained that she couldn’t maintain the apple tree (too much pruning and cleaning up fallen fruit) so she had had it removed. The tree had been her nemesis.
The tea was always calming and had a relaxing fragrance. The blend was all from her garden, a dried mixture of chamomile, lemon balm and hawthorn leaves. It left a medicinal after taste and a feeling of well being . . . but it didn’t erase the loss of the apple tree. She knew I was disappointed, but the deed was done.
Learning to deal with death and grieving was something I hadn’t experienced. I was at El Toro when Grampy died and was sheltered from his sickness and passing. That night while I grieved over the apple tree, I wondered about Vietnam and if there would be a time and place for mourning. It was a fear I did not want to face.
Next edition: East Bay Tour