Cherries, Apples, and Hickory Tea

by Jane Shewmaker Hale


Our cherry tree had the biggest, reddest, juiciest cherries in town.  My brother, Rex, and I shook, poked, and wrestled all the cherries from the lower limbs.

As we watched the birds feast on the best of the fruit in the top limbs, Rex said, "I bet I could climb to the top limbs and get those big old cherries."

"Sure you could," I agreed, "I bet I could too."

Rex thought a minute.  "I bet you could go higher because you're a skinny girl.  Why don't you shimmy up that tree and pick those cherries.  I'll run and get a bucket and you can toss them into it."

I started my climb upward while Rex ran to the shed.  By the time he got back I was on the limbs near the top.  Grabbing handful's of cherries, I dropped them into his bucket.  As I continued to throw cherries down, the bottom of the bucket stared up at me.  I looked at Rex and saw his mouth was stained with berry juice and his jaws were crammed full.

"Hey! You said we were going to wait until I got down and divide the cherries."  I climbed a limb higher and froze as I heard it crack.

"Get down before you break that limb," Rex yelled, "You can have the rest of the cherries."

I grabbed for the limb below me and steadied myself.  I snatched a handful of cherries and stuffed them into my mouth as I continued to toss handfuls to the bucket.  As long as I was up here I might as well get the cherries instead of letting the birds have them

"Rex Juan! Myra Jane! What do you think you're doing?  Didn't I tell you to not climb that cherry tree?" Mom was standing near the back door, her hands on her hips.  That stance usually meant TROUBLE.

Rex began his explanation.  "Jane wanted some cherries and she thought she might be skinny enough so those little limbs would hold her."

Mom had picked up a switch from beneath the tree and was advancing toward Rex who was busy trying to keep his distance.

"Mom, we were just trying to get some of those cherries you wanted.  Remember the ones you said the birds always got?" I reminded her.

"Myra Jane, what I remember telling you kids was not to climb the cherry tree.  Do you remember what I said would happen if I caught you climbing the cherry tree?"

Boy, did I remember!  I was trying to get down as fast as I could while watching Rex get what I could imagine was a preview of  coming attractions for me.  I was screaming 'bloody murder' before my feet hit the ground.

A few days later, after the stinging had gone away from our legs, Rex and I were once more in the back yard.  We gave the cherry tree a wide berth.

Rex stopped beneath the apple tree and looked up.  The sunlight glinted off two large red apples at the top of the tree.

"Jane, look at that big red apple near the top of the tree.  It looks like it's got your name on it."

I peered up, but try as I might, I couldn't see any writing on that apple.

"Would you like to have yours?"

Boy, would I?  I could taste that red apple already.

"You're a lot better climber than I am.  I bet you could be up there and back before I got half way up.  But, I guess I'll try" my brother said.

I already had my foot on the first limb.  About half way up, I scraped my leg causing it to sting like the switching I'd had earlier in the week.  Remembering, I started down.

"Hey, you didn't get the apples.  Did you forget?"

"What I didn't forget was what Mom said she'd do if she caught me in a tree again."  I said.

"Think, Jane, you've got it wrong again, as usual.  What exactly did Mom say?"

I rested in the fork of two good sized limbs and thought about it.  "She said, if she caught us climbing that cherry tree, we'd get a good dose of hickory tea."

"Hey, you got it right!  She said the cherry tree.  Did she mention the apple tree?"

No, come to think of it, she didn't.  I started my climb back up straining to see my name on the apple.

"Hey, reach out and tip my apple down.  I bet I can catch it before it hits the ground!"

I swatted his apple, staring, as it fell, to see REX printed on it.  It went by so fast I missed it.  Sure enough, Rex reached out and made a beautiful catch.

"Does it have your name on it?" I yelled.

"It sure does!"  Rex answered as he ran toward the shed, munching as he went.

I could taste my apple.  I reached out and picked it, turning it in my hand to see where my name was.

"Myra Jane!"  Mom stood beneath the apple tree, switch in hand.

"Hey Mom, I was just trying to see my name on this apple."

"Young lady, do you remember what I said about climbing trees?"

"Boy, do I, Mom.  You said not to climb the cherry tree.  This is an apple tree, Mom."  I looked down to see if Mom understood.  I watched her face turn the color of my apple.

"Missy, a smart aleck gets a double dose of hickory tea.  Now get down here, fast."

"But, Mom."  I looked around for Rex.  A blur of color caught my eye near the shed.  Rex was sitting on the ground, leaning against the shed munching his apple.  If I told on him I knew he'd get even.

"Myra Jane!  Get down here."  Mom repeated.

I hit the ground running and headed for the shed.  As Mom and I rounded the corner, Rex was just preparing to toss his apple core.

"Rex Juan!  Where did you get that apple?  Have you been egging your sister on to climb trees again?"  Mom took a practice swipe at Rex, causing his to leap full blown to his feet.

"Mom, I didn't climb a tree.  I was on the ground when I got my apple."  Rex told his version of the truth.

While Mom served up my brother's hickory tea, I turned my apple over and over trying to find Jane printed on it.  All I saw was my reflection in the shiny skin of a red apple.  I looked up to see Mom coming my way and I knew if my name was on anything, it was the switch in Mom's hand.  For once, I was right.