Dan Schwartz: Apples are a reminder we need to be selective - The Buffalo News

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Dan Schwartz: Apples are a reminder we need to be selective

“Iduna keeps in a box the apples which the gods, when they feel old age approaching, have only to taste to become young again.”

– Edda of the Scandinavians

“What care I for Iduna’s apples so long as I can get these?”

– Henry Thoreau

It used to be an American tradition to bring an apple to class for the teacher.

By the time I became an educator, it was I who brought apples to class for my students. At the start of the school year, I’d begin my classes by bringing in samples of four or five different kinds. After we’d eaten the apples, we’d crack open a packet of supplementary readings and writing invitations that had something to do with apples and education.

Among the selections was Robert Frost’s “After Apple-Picking.” I’ve had a long relationship with that poem. There is a line about there being 10,000 apples to touch. It’s a reminder that while there are many opportunities and possibilities in life, out of necessity we must be selective. We’re only granted so much time. Autumn and the high holidays provide similar reminders.

The first thing I ever published was a parody of “After Apple-Picking” called “After Puck-Stopping.” Playing street hockey with some of my high school students, I was pressed into service as a goalie. My glasses wouldn’t fit over or under their “Friday the 13th” style goalie mask. Let’s just say I made a lot of shooters unusually happy that day. The next day we read the Frost poem in class, and I began substituting the word “puck” for “apple.” Voila, instant literature.

It was published in the Sunday Magazine of the Buffalo Courier-Express. One week later, the Courier-Express ceased publication. I have always felt personally responsible for the demise of Mark Twain’s newspaper.

Another element of the packet was a short story titled, “Apples,” by Henry Berry. The story is about an apple-tasting contest in which two finalists are blindfolded and given small pieces of quite a number of apples. The story mentions 45 different kinds of apples. My son recently noted it’s a remarkable story because of the suspense that’s generated by something as simple as two guys just sitting around eating apples. Each time I read it, I am reminded of all the different kinds of apples there are in the world and how we are limited to just a few varieties in our supermarkets most of the year.

Some day do yourself a favor and take a trip to a few different stores, farmer’s markets and roadside stands to see how many different kinds of apples you might experience. Can’t find or get to any “new” apples? Don’t worry. The great Louisiana chef, Paul Prudhomme, once said, “Don’t get fancy. Have you cooked an apple pie? You don’t know what you did wrong? Do this: Take two or three apples. Put them on a table. Study them.”

Years ago, I did what Prudhomme suggested. I studied apples, albeit in a writing class. I became fascinated by the russet and the different colors and shades of apples. Now I rarely bite into one without checking it out and perhaps admiring its beauty.

I once fell in love with a woman who hated, and was very self-conscious about, her freckles. Kids had teased her growing up, and she endured a lot of connect-the-dots jokes. I told her about my fascination with apples, and how beautiful she was, and how her freckles reminded me of russet and apples. If I hadn’t taken a moment to study apples, who knows?

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