Some subjects one ought like to wade into out of respect. Theology for instance. The same reason that on a hot summer evening I like to slowly wade into the creek below the back pasture (soybeans this year), because the water is so cold, hypothermic (really). Cold water can re-focus your body’s consciousness. I have gone to that creek as a beat-up, debt-ridden, mentally depleted beast, only to have that sensory invasion flush and overwhelm my mental sludge. A back-forty Jordan River experience without John the Baptist, and the chance to feel like a trout. John the Baptist called it the holy spirit, I will just leave it at trout.
This to segway into my subject, original sin. The words Original Sin one might take as a call for creativity on the subject. But as the seminarian knows, original sin is about apples. And the ultimate chauvinist pig Scripture lesson that the Fall was the fault of the XX chromosome, meaning females. I have long believed the real mistake was God putting up the no-trespassing signs around that apple tree. And why pick on snakes? What if that tree’s companion had been a frog? A dog? What then would theology have done?
As for original sin, the kind I knew, began with my mama. My mama made apple pie. And just like in Scripture, east of the farmhouse was a garden. A large companionable garden. At the far end was the sweet corn, next the pumpkin/squash patch, some nearer the strawberry patch, an asparagus fen, beside the oak hedge there was a raspberry cove, and tomato theater. Each of these by their volume to fill and restore that farmhouse. The tax records of our farm in that time reveal we were none too well-off, but there was not a bank in the village with more bullion in the cellar as was my mama’s house.
East of the house, next to the garden, next to those patches was an orchard, a dozen apple trees. Crabs for jelly and bees. Also slingshots. Greenings, Wealthies, Summer Bananas, Haralson, Duchess, Wolf River, Russets. One tree was particular. Planted not by my grandfather but his father, the one named James.
Whether by accident or not, we never knew only to bet it was by accident. That tree predated the farmhouse, planted by children sent to tend sheep in the far pasture above the wild moor where yet were Indians and probably pterodactyls.
In my youth this tree was thought ancient and accordingly wise, as is the case of trees. It was always the first to bear fruit, apples big enough to peel and quarter, and wage pie.
They were a touch sour, these apples, a touch uncivilized, to our minds a touch magical, these apples growing on the edge of Indian territory and pterodactyls. When that tree came ripe depended on the summer. Surely by oat time and what was in the days of the bagger combine, a cruel task was oat combining because oat thresh is itchy to the point of thermonuclear insanity. A viral kind of itch that leaks into your pores enough to lead its victims to dunk whole body into a stock tank for relief, even to the point of doing this in the hog yard wallow, as is extreme, if it did cure oat itch.
On that supper of oat combining and dementia was our mama’s first anointment of summer apples and the therapeutic application of apple pie.
Original Sin apples, heavy with sugar, crusted with cinnamon. My mama had a special pie pan for this occasion, its size the equal of a manhole cover, it barely fit the oven. Not only a huge pie pan, it was a monstrous piece of steel. To suspect it had not been born a pie pan. This pie pan the equal of any four regular pies. Maybe five. Maybe six. On this supper evening we had the equivalent of a whole fabulous and brand new apple pie, one each.
Being members of the West’s Dairy Cooperative we had ice cream in like and sheer proportion. Skipped on this oat night supper were the mashed potatoes, the pork chops, the corn soup, the stewed tomatoes. We ate pie. Original sin apple pie. At oat harvest apple pie wasn’t desert, not a side dish, but the main course meal. And we all knew it was a sin. There is no Extension Bulletin, no dietary guru, no Bon Appétit that advises that apple pie can or ought to be the entire supper. This sin my mama did. It may not have been a balanced meal but it did dispel the itch of that god-blessed oat harvest. We were set free again by that apple pie. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said something like this some years later, but forgot the apple pie part.
The Book of Genesis takes up the apple as sin and the cause of the fall of mankind. If to think theology ought try a day at oat threshing. I didn’t do all that well in seminary either.