The Never-Ending Apple Wars of Summer

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The dynamics between the kids on Abbott Parkway were complex. There was always this “boys against girls” thing.

It started in school. By fourth grade, it got to where boys intercepted notes girls tried to pass to one another. Sometimes the boys would read them. Sometimes the boys would pass them to our teacher, Miss Powell. Miss Powell didn’t take too kindly to note passing.

This tension spilled over to the neighborhood. Several girls from our grade played on the same turf we did. That would be in the yards around the houses in the middle of the street. That’s where Angelo’s house was. That’s also where Debbie’s house was, and Shari’s house, and Babsie’s house, and a houseful of younger girls whose names I can’t remember. (But I do remember the name of their brother. It was Johnny. And he was much younger than me, Kenny, Angelo, and Markie.)

Add to this mix the visiting girls from other streets. Like me and Kenny, these girls all spent their summer days at those houses in the middle of Abbott Parkway. Each group usually stuck to its own.

As you might expect, things happened. Inevitably, one gang would violate the turf of another gang. It wasn’t intentional. Angelo’s cousins’ house was two houses over. We had to cut across the backyard of that houseful of younger girls to get there. Likewise, Angelo’s backyard was on the shortcut path from other neighborhoods to Abbott Parkway. The girls used that one a lot.

On that same path, and just behind Angelo’s backyard, sprouted a small grove of fruit trees. I don’t know if they were part of some ancient orchard or if they were more recently planted. Angelo’s backyard also had fruit trees. I suspect they were not part of an orchard because they weren’t the same. There was a plum tree, an apple tree, and a pear tree.

No peach tree, though. We had one in our backyard. My father planted it. It took a while to grow. It didn’t bear fruit until after we moved. By that time, my grandfather owned the house. When the first flower first appeared, my father and grandfather were so excited. But it bore no peach. When the first peach finally appeared, my grandfather guarded it, shooing away any bird that got too close. After it got ripe, he waited for us to visit. Then he took my father out to it (Kenny and I tagging along). They picked it and shared it with us. It was delicious.

The fruit trees in Angelo’s backyard were much more mature. Bigger, they bore dozens and dozens of ripened fruit. The Italian men of the neighborhood (including my father and Angelo’s father) would regularly enjoy eating them right off the tree.

Angelo and I, not so much. We didn’t view these delectables as food. We saw them as something much more entertaining. We saw them as unspent ammunition.

And so marked the most memorable aspect of summers on Abbott Parkway: the never-ending Apple Wars.

We called them “Apple Wars,” but we did not limit our ordinance to little green apples. We’d add plums and pears, too. Apples, however, proved best. Unlike plums and pears, apples were round like baseballs. That made them easier to throw.

There were two sides in the Apple Wars. Our side and the other side. It might have seemed that this was just another one of those “boys against girls” things, but it wasn’t. Everybody except for me and Angelo and Kenny and Markie were “the other side.”

That is, everyone who took part. With one notable exception, the older girls (including Angelo’s cousins two doors down) shunned us younger kids. They never sullied themselves by engaging in such banal and childish activities as flinging spoiled fruit at others. They neither participated in nor condoned Apple Wars.

For the record, we never considered these older girls as acceptable targets in our apple wars. Angelo and I (and probably Kenny and Markie, too), treated them as royalty. Not in an adulation sort of way. Not that we were their subjects. More in an elite class sort of way, as if they were of that proper, refined class that we would never be worthy of.

It’s weird the way kids think.

Angelo’s mother (and other mothers) would holler at all us kids whenever we started one of our apple wars. I think it was because our clothes would get really dirty. Well, mostly Angelo’s and the girls. The girls for two reasons. First, we could throw better than them. Second, Angelo preferred to throw the juicy rotten apples. I preferred the harder ones. They’re easier to grasp and therefore better to control the trajectory of—yes, this is something I did think of when I was 7-8 years old, don’t ask me how I knew that.

Angelo would get dirty because (again, 2 reasons): 1) He liked to get smeared with apples (because I think he knew his mother didn’t like it); and, 2) He was constantly getting hit by apples because he would have to get real close to the enemy to insure he would hit them with the juicy rotten apple.

I rarely got hit. I was familiar with the range of the opponent as well as my own (which was generally longer than their range). Also, I had good peripheral vision, so I would always see them maneuvering into position before they could strike. This left me with plenty of time to dodge any throws.

One time I did get hit. “Little” Johnny was the kid who lived next door to Angelo. Even though he was a boy, he had older sisters and was usually on their team. But he was a little kid. And he was a boy. One time we tried to convince him to join our side. I was the one tasked with this mission. There was a ceasefire, and I dropped my apples and did a parley with him. He continued to hold on to his apple. I moved closer and closer to him, my arms open to purposely place myself in a vulnerable and defenseless position. I tried to show my sincerity as I asked him to join us. He paused to consider. Then, almost robot like, fired at me point blank, hitting me with his apple.

Well, that ended the ceasefire and, with Kenny, Angelo, and Markie remaining armed, we returned fire. Our relentless fusillade scattered the girls (and Johnny).

These were all small skirmishes that eventually built up to a grand battle. This was hours in the making. By this time, we were using Johnny as a spy. We figured he was a double spy, so we never told him our actual plans. We gathered and collected ammo in Angelo’s back yard. The girls huddled in Debbie’s backyard. Johnny would run back and forth across the street, spying (probably) for both sides. You could feel the tension build as we inched closer to the ultimate confrontation.

Suddenly, seconds before the war would have broken out, Angelo’s mother came out of the house and yelled at everyone. “I’m the one who has to clean up all the apples in the yard!” she shouted and demanded what amounted to an immediate cessation of hostilities. We obeyed.

But the small skirmishes continued. The girls would like to cut across Angelo’s backyard. We figured that was the only time we could hit them—when they were trespassing on his property. We would position ourselves far away. It was like target practice. Not quite like shooting water into the clown’s mouth at the carnival, but more like the rifle game where you have to hit the moving ducks.

Then one day I did something I will forever feel terrible about. The girls were standing around a statue of the Virgin Mary in the backyard of Johnny’s house. There were three of them. Two usual targets and an innocent girl (Karen, I think her name was) from up the street. Karen, though a younger girl, never participated in any of our apple wars.

Angelo said to me, “Chris, I bet you can’t hit them from this far away.” We were very far away. Farther than we’ve ever hit anyone. I figured it was a worthy challenge, so I accepted it. I found a nice hard apple that I could get a real good grip on. I looked at the group of girls. They were talking. They didn’t expect an attack. They thought they were at a safe distance.

Why I chose to aim for Karen, I will never know. But that’s who I picked. I figured if I’m lucky, I’d hit her in the square of the back and merely startle her. I launched the apple. It was a high arcing shot, not unlike what you’d see after teeing off a golf ball. It slowed to a peak, then began its descent, accelerating downward at a rate of 32 feet per second squared.

Moments before impact, Karen turned to face me. The apple—this rock-solid speeding projectile—nailed her right in the eye. She started crying. This innocent girl who never did anything to me or anyone else was crying. Because of me. IN FRONT OF THE STATUE OF THE VIRGIN MARY!

Remember that scene from Animal House where they kill the dean’s horse by accident. They look like the Three Stooges because they don’t believe it and don’t know what to do before scrambling away? That was us. Angelo couldn’t believe I hit her. I couldn’t believe I hit her in the eye. We scrambled away. He went into his house and me onto my blue Stingray bike, peddling as fast as I could all the way down to my house at the end of the street.

Poor Karen. If that was her name.

Author’s Note: Angelo tried to take the fall for me. He knew people were more likely to believe he did it. He had a tough reputation. I was the “nice boy.” I wouldn’t let him. He tried saying it was his fault because he was the one who dared me. I said it was my fault because I threw the apple. When Cindy (an older girl) found out, she shook her head at me and said, “Chris, I expected much better from you.” She was only a year older than me, but words punctured deeply, as if I had disappointed my own mother.

Karen did fine. In the days after the event, she was seen playing with others, laughing, and having fun. She never got a black eye. And the author, after self-imposed exile on his end of the street, eventually apologized to her. She brushed it off as just “one of those things boys do” with the slight air of aristocracy you’d expect from an older girl, not from someone her age. Karen learned well from Cindy’s example.


  1. […] rules. But when violated, what do you think happens? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “The Never-Ending Apple Wars of Summer” and witness a drama in real life—that didn’t turn out quite the way as […]

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