The Apples of Happiness
Sometimes, when you’re not paying attention, the Apples of Happiness fall into your lap. You’re just sitting there under some gnarly apple tree, which might as easily be a chestnut or a maple tree, because it’s hot and you want a little shade, and maybe you have a basket in your lap and maybe you don’t, but the apples fall into it (lap or basket) — and Bob’s your uncle, whatever that means, they’re always saying it in novels that take place in England.
Sister Alma Rose has this friend called Cassandra, who is 62 years old, and the Apples of Happiness fell into her lap seven years ago, when she was 55. Sister Alma Rose has known her since she, Cassandra, was in high school. Cassandra has had only one job in her entire life: teaching English at Hilltop High School. And she has always lived alone, with her cats and dogs and books and movies and music. Her parents died a long time ago. She had two brothers, and one of them expired quite young from a heart attack, and the other one moved a long way away, to Florida, and Cassandra doesn’t get to see him and his family very often.
I absolutely adore Cassandra, and the reason I am writing this today is that she lost her precious Maggie, a very old, very sweet muggins of a dog. I don’t think that people who are not “dog people” can understand how devastating this is. Sister Alma Rose knows a nasty man who fired one of his employees because she took a day of sick leave when her 12-year-old Labrador retriever died.
In the case of “dog people,” their dogs are their children, and in a way they (the dogs) are more endearing than children because they never grow up, they never sass you, they never “go through a phase,” they never drink and drive or “experiment” with drugs. They just follow you around, adoringly, wagging and gently imploring you to scratch them behind the ears or feed them little nuggets that you don’t even have to cook, you just pour them out of a bag, although one of our dogs, Amos, was on a special diet for two years (before he died) and Mama had to cook hamburger and rice and vegetables (no potatoes!) and give him Chinese herbs, but Mama didn’t mind, because she didn’t ever have to fuss at Amos to eat, and Amos never got bored with hamburger and rice and vegetables. And when sweet Amos went to the Great Grassy Meadow in the Sky, Daddy cried, and he kept on crying the whole time he was digging a deep hole in the garden for the body that Amos lived in while he was on earth, and he buried Amos’s body and planted a cottonwood tree on his grave, and that cottonwood tree has grown large and lovely, which is just exactly as it should be.
Anyway, my heart hurts for Cassandra, and so I am especially glad that the Apples of Happiness fell into her lap seven years ago.
What happened was this: Cassandra is wild about this American composer called Leroy Anderson, whom you might have never heard of, although he composed many famous pieces of music, including “Sleigh Ride,” “Blue Tango,” “the Syncopated Clock,” “the Typewriter,” and some longer pieces, concertos and things, and theme music for television shows.
So — I might not have all the details right, but what I think occurred is that Cassandra was in an Internet chat room or some such thing on the Leroy Anderson Official Website, and she was “chatting” with a man called Wallace, and then they struck up a lively e-mail correspondence and they fell in love. That’s it, in a nutshell.
Wallace lives in Canada, a large, cold country where everybody is wild about ice hockey and where many people who are called Québécois (kay-bay-KWAH) speak French and get their knickers in a knot if you say kwuh-BECK instead of kay-BECK, and so they (Cassandra and Wallace) agreed to meet in person in a very public and safe place in Estes Park, Colorado, and, boy, did they ever have the immediate hots for each other (Sister Alma Rose doesn’t like for me to say that, she thinks it’s crude, but the alternatives that I can think of would get me sent to my room without supper). Cassandra’s friends were rather nervous, ahead of time, about Cassandra’s little adventure, because everybody thinks that if you meet someone on the Internet he will inevitably turn out to be a psychopath with a machete, or perhaps he will put cyanide in your coffee, or something.
Sister Alma Rose was not the least bit concerned, though, and she told Cassandra that God’s angels would protect her and that she should just go and have herself a fine time, which Cassandra did, because Wallace is a prince of a fellow, a true gentleman, a gifted musician, and a real sweetie, who treats Cassandra like a queen, and when Cassandra’s friends finally met him they all fell a little bit in love with him, but Cassandra fell a lot in love with him and told her friends that they had better watch themselves or she would slice them up and fry them for brunch, with sautéed onions and Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute, and then bury their bones and dance on their graves.
Now, listen to this! Cassandra and Wallace’s second “date” was a trip to Hollywood for the Barbra Streisand farewell concert, and they (Cassandra and Wallace, not Barbra) stayed in the Beverly Hilton! Darling Wallace paid extra thousands of dollars (U.S., not Canadian) for backstage passes.
Oh, and Stop the Presses, Barbra Streisand must be saying The Long Goodbye, because apparently she’s not finished doing farewell concerts, or at least she was still performing in 2007, when, if her photo is any indication, she was showing most if not all of her 65 years, though she has never been a beauty, but I don’t feel a bit sorry for her because she was practically born with that glorious voice, plus she is a fine actor and she is married to James Brolin, who is easy enough on the eyes for both of them.
Back to Wallace. He would like to move to Hilltop, because Canada is a long way away, and he and Cassandra see each other for ten days two times a year — once at Christmastime, when Wallace visits Cassandra and fixes a superb turkey dinner for Cassandra and all her salivating friends; and again in the summer, when they go on a fancy vacation trip. They have taken the train to the rocky coast of Oregon, they have basked in the Bermuda sun, and next year — I am so jealous about this that I was afraid I would burn in Hell until Sister Alma Rose promised me that God is merciful and that what Hell is is the way you feel when you are eaten up by jealousy — they are going to visit the Lake Country in England. Between visits, they e-mail and talk on the phone, one or the other and sometimes both, every day.
Sister Alma Rose relates the story of Cassandra and Wallace to people who are very discouraged about something or other and who anticipate nothing but doom and disaster for the rest of their lives. “Only God can see around the corners,” she says.
“Y’all never know when the Apples of Happiness, which are the grace of God, might fall into y’all’s lap.” Then she adds, “Try to be paying attention, so that God won’t have to bonk y’all in the head with a particularly large, heavy apple, or perhaps a pumpkin.”
There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.
I have never been on a sea voyage. But I have sat under lots of apple trees.
Rest in peace, dear Maggie….