The Pawpaw Tree

Summer has drawn to a close and the morning air in the hills is crisp.  As soon as I finished feeding the chickens I was able to sneak away.  The only thing better then a Saturday is one when you can get away from your three brothers and spend the day with your imagination and the hills. 

When Iâ??m alone I can find a castle, made of large gray boulders that magically jut out of the top of the hill as if placed by some invisible plan, and be the king of my forest domain. After a full day of guarding my castle from the invading hoard, I lie on the soft green moss looking up through the thick tree cover and watch the clouds roll by. As I feel the cold rock beneath I dream of all the things Iâ??ll do when I grow up or what it would be like to have enough money to have a real castle. 

Iâ??ve packed two biscuits in a brown paper bag and head off with my lunch.  Iâ??m not planning on being back to the house by lunchtime. We donâ??t usually have much for lunch anyways.  Lately we havenâ??t had much food but we seem to always have just enough, which makes today special since I was able to get a couple of biscuits to take with me.  I get more and more excited as I walk down an old dirt path along the creek. After about ten minutes I get to the entrance to my kingdom, a cold mountain stream.  The stream is frigid this time of year, but itâ??s the best way to get into the hills since there arenâ??t many trails leading to magic lands.

As I hike farther into the hills my restlessness grows and my normal playground just doesnâ??t seem good enough today. So, I decide to go deeper into the hills than Iâ??ve gone before.  I walk for hours, hearing the squirrels chirping , I move the weeds away carefully so I donâ??t step on a copperhead or anything else that I might regret.  I sit down on a large rock and pull out my bag of biscuits. They seem a little squashed, having ridden in my pocket the entire trip.  The bag was soaked through with a light coating of grease. I ate one of my biscuits and felt revived.  The slight coating of oil hung on my lips and I wanted so badly to eat the second one, but I realized that Iâ??d get hungry before the days end and abstained. I start back on my trek.

Now, Iâ??m thoroughly lost, I can find my way back, but Iâ??ve definitely never been here before.   I head over a ledge and see something that looks familiar, a short tree.  Itâ??s a pawpaw tree.  One of our neighbors used to have one in their backyard, and would give us some of the fruit once in a while. As I get to the tree I see itâ??s loaded with greenish yellow fruit, all covered with brown blotches.  The pawpaws were ripe, and nobody knew this tree was here, it was all mine.  I grab a pawpaw and break it open. I take a bite of the juicy yellow flesh and it feels like a warm Christmas pudding in my mouth with a sweet taste thatâ??s all its own. 

I take of my shirt off, making a quick carrier, fill it full of fruit.  I wonder how Iâ??m going to get it home.  My journey home is tiresome, I keep tripping, spilling my a few pawpaws.  Itâ??s a lot harder to walk through the slippery leaves and fallen trees carrying a shirt full of pawpaws.  By the time I get to the top of my familiar stream my entire body is itching.  Bugs and poison ivy it seems have hit every part of my torso.  But, look at all of the pawpaws I got.  I imagine the reception that the family will give me when I walk through the door with such a bounty of treats. Then I think what did they do to get these, Iâ??ve suffered greatly getting these home, if I go around back I can hide them under the house and maybe no one will see me.

I sneak around the house and hide the pawpaws where I hope no one will find them.  I walk to the front of the house and notice my brothers playing in the creek.  I put on my shirt, trying to hide my itchy guilt and go play with them.  I find a nice rock that I decide to keep  and as I put it in my pocket I feel the biscuit, that I forgot, soaked with the creek water and I feel a pang of guilt as I remember the pawpaws that Iâ??d hidden.

Dinner seemed to take forever. I normally love soup beans and fried potatoes, but today all I could think of was my hidden jewels. After dinner I crept around the house and got a pawpaw.  I hide in the trees to hide what I was doing. 

It seems over the next day I couldnâ??t go an hour without sneaking off for a hidden treat.  At the end of the second day I start to notice that the pawpaws were starting to taste a little bitterer and although my stomach was starting to ache I couldnâ??t seem to stop eating them, and why should I, I earned them.  I had the itchy skin to prove it. 

Only two days later and the fruit are all gone, but my stomach is still hurting.  It canâ??t be from the fruit can it? Maybe itâ??s the guilt of not sharing.  That evening I head to my Mamawâ??s house to see if there is anything she can do for my stomach.  When I get there, I tell what I did. My Mamaw then tells me a story of how my Papaw used to go out and bring pawpaws home for the kids and that they were my momâ??s favorite food.  Now I felt really bad, I noticed months ago as the food got tighter mom ate less.  She was trying to make sure us boys had enough to eat.

First thing Saturday morning I decide to take a large burlap potato sack and head back to the tree.  I get in such a hurry I forget to take any food.  The day goes on and I canâ??t find the tree.  As I cross over each ledge I look down hoping to see the tree.  The sun gets high and the trees start to sway.  I see clouds rolling in faster now and the wind picks up. Iâ??m hours from home and it start to feel the rain come down.  The rain feels so cold the walking get harder as the hill gives way to mud and the leaves become slick.  Finally I see something familiar. Itâ??s the pawpaw tree. Still no one has found the tree and the fruit is riper then before.  As the rain pours down on me I struggle to feel the bag with fruit.  The bag is so heavy I can barely lift it.  With every step I worry the bag is going to burst open and Iâ??m going to lose my bounty. 

I get to the bend, only a few minutes from the house, the rain lift and whatâ??s left of the sun peeks through the clouds.  I hear birds in the distance trying to find food at the end of the day.  As I get to our house I head straight for the front porch, instead of hiding my footsteps as before.  As I step on the rickety wooden boards of the front porch, I have no ambitions of being the received as a glorious hero; Iâ??m still too ashamed of my previous behavior.

As I step through the front door I see my mother in the kitchen, as she swings around and sees me with a look of confusion and anger.  But as the mud covered bag hits the floor her demeanor changes as the pawpaws spill onto the floor.  I see a small smile come onto here face as she directs me get cleaned up.

I return and notice that my mess has already been cleaned and the pawpaws are laid out on the table.  After my mother calls to my brothers to tell them of our new found harvest, I lower my head and tell her of my adventures of the previous week. Without showing any signs of disappointment she tells me how itâ??s OK and sheâ??s very proud of me sharing this find with the family.

As my brothers pour into the kitchen, eyes alight with delight I walk over to the corner to watch.  For some reason I have no desire to eat a pawpaw.  The only thing I can think of is why my mother, even with such a bounty, stands back with a smile on her face watching her children eat her favorite food, while she still goes without.

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