THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Day my childhood came crashing down
The whirring of the electric saw created a buzz outside my window.
Oh, Uncle L is trimming the apple tree, I first thought to myself.
With the help of a ladder he had climbed the tree and was cutting off the limbs which crashed to the paved area below, a safe distance from causing any harm.
And with each drop of a branch from the apple tree – I had not realised it at first – but a bit of the district’s history was falling away.
I expected the mild disturbance would be over soon since it was not the first time old faithful was in for a pruning.
Sometimes around hurricane season, branches and young apples are sacrificed for the sake of disaster preparedness.
When terribly bad weather passed in October 2010, I returned to the island to find that the apple tree had taken a severe bruising. Afterwards, the tree was bare and looked like a giant rod sticking out the earth. I felt for sure it would take quite a while for her to recover. But she did and in a relatively short time we were back to a supply of the spondias dulcis.
How the tree came about is unclear but one theory is that an apple more than likely fell from the tray of our visiting St Thomas hawker and took firm root next to that house by the side of the road. At first its trunk was hidden from view, wedged between the galvanised paling that was a feature of many Bajan backyards.
Whatever the history of its arrival, the tree defiantly shot up way above its imprisoning fence, and its spreading branches gave a panoramic view of the community; allowed us to peep over the walls of one state institution and allowed the climbers an unobstructed view into the backyards of the ordinary folk for more than five decades.
Late in the year, those passing by in the buses gazed upon its laden branches longingly while at times the birds took full pleasure in picking the one apple that had been marked for consumption.
The sound of the tree under sprucing stirred in me those recollections and some of its many functions.
As a child, climbing the tree was forbidden but that was only when adults were around. The fear of falling and “brekking ya neck” was real and in a lesser case scenario, another broken limb did not appease neither parents nor guardians.
But of course climbed that tree we did. Once we reached above a certain height, the alarm went out among the children in the gap that somebody was in the tree. Getting into the tree unnoticed took some effort. We climbed through the back window on to the roof where we were in full view as we tip-toed across the hot tin roof.
We grabbed hold of a branch and if in the mood, we swung and monkeyed around for a bit before skilfully gliding over to where the apples were biggest.
Within seconds a group of children would form outside the gate beneath the shadow of the tree with muffled cries of “pick one fuh me”, “I want one” and “send down more”. With every passing second bringing the danger of a fall or a parent closer, the picking and tossing of the apples over the paling had to be done with precision timing.
My cousin Monica and I, two masters of stealth, devised a plan for such risky daytime behaviour. In the day we marked where the apples were closest to the housetop and at night slipped out onto the roof while everyone was asleep or distracted by some innate television programme, picked the apples and hid them in some dark corner for later feasting.
By the time I reached adulthood my taste for the golden apple had waned and the distribution of apples took on a more structured approach.
Once co-workers and church colleagues realised that I had such a prized commodity on the premises, I began a parcelling system for those who asked at the time of picking, friends, passing strangers or whether I felt in a generous mood. My uncle would always be setting aside apples for someone.
Suddenly – I realised that the pruning of the tree was going on for quite a while and when I peered outside, to my utter horror almost half the tree was gone.
My uncle continued his task employing all the techniques of professional tree fellers. Using the electric saw, he had cut away the branches and limbs leaving the main trunk which he then reduced to a stump.
But as I watched my uncle slice through the branches, I became aware that our dear apple tree had been rotting from its inside.
Isn’t it cruel that, after years of giving and bringing joy to others, such a sad and final fate could await a beautiful creation of Mother Earth?
• Antoinette Connell is a News Editor.