Jason Kornblatt's final Pork Pony stint before the fabled mare rode off into the cyber-sunset. Told in the style of an old-time fable, this story of a young man and a peach tree teaches all of us (especially guilt-ridden Catholics and Jews) a valuable life lesson. This is another of my favorites from the days of the Pony. (CL)
There once was a young boy who lived in Short Island, in a small house surrounded by a neat, green lawn with a white, picket fence. The first ten years of this boy's life were very happy and filled with all sorts of wonderful memories, such as the time he and his 17 brothers built a tree fort and tried to take it with them to attack the neighbors, not knowing a tree fort was supposed to be stationary.
The Short Island family was a very proud family. They were all tall, well-mannered and each of them had wonderful singing voices - even the young boy in our story, who had dreams of becoming a Broadway actor, to sing and dance and entertain anyone who would watch him.
As you can see, the Short Island family had much to be proud of. And yet, perhaps they were proud of nothing so much as the fine peach tree which they had all planted together years ago, and which had since become a prize-winning peach tree and made a habit of satisfying the whole family with its fruit during the annual 4th of July weekend. The mother of the family relied on the tree and used its fruit to make peach pies, and peach cobbler, peaches and cream and peach skin potatoes. It was almost as if the tree were part of the family - one that tasted better than all the others.
One day, while playing in the yard with his dog, Skipper (a half-beagle) the young boy came across his father's ax. It was a shiny, heavy ax, with a thick wooden handle, and the young boy thought it might be fun to swing it.
'Besides,' he thought, 'father hasn't used this ax since the winter and it must need the exercise.' So, lifting the ax with all his might, the boy managed to swing it all the way over his shoulder. It was fun to do and good for them both, he was sure. Even Skipper the half-beagle was running out of breath, just trying to keep as far away from the ax as possible.
After a while, the boy's arms felt tired and, feeling the ax had gotten a good enough work-out, he put it just where it had been - much to the relief of Skipper.
As the days went by and the boy and his brothers and Skipper played in the yard, the boy would always find a few minutes to exercise his new friend, the ax.
One day, in the middle of a very long game of hide and seek, when the boy was 'it' and supposed to be looking for his brothers, he went and began to play with the ax. But this time, it wasn't as fun as before. The ax appeared to be bored.
"This is all fine and good," it said, yawning, "but I miss having something to sink my teeth into."
Hoping to oblige and make his friend happy, the boy took it and went in search of something to cut, like a can. However, since the garbage collectors on his block were so efficient, there was nothing hard on the ground at all.
"What I could really use," the ax whispered to the boy, "is some wood." Skipper seemed nervous at this suggestion.
"Well, I'm sorry," said the boy, "I really am. But I don't think we have any wood."
The Ax looked around the yard. "What about that little peach tree?" it asked.
"Ah," said the boy, "But that's our award-winning peach tree. And I'm sure we should be very upset to lose it."
"And I," said the Ax, "shall be very upset if I don't get my teeth on some wood. I think I might die!"
The little boy put up a valiant argument, listing many reasons why he couldn't cut the tree down. But, in the end, the Ax convinced him that the peach tree must go. Besides, the boy knew what life was like with the tree, and wondered what it would be like without it.
The young boy pulled the Ax back as far over his head as it would go and waited for the signal.
"Now," shouted the Ax, and the young boy's arms drove it right into the little peach tree. Thunk! Had the little boy been able to speak to the Peach tree, he would have known what terrible pain it was in. Unfortunately, the boy didn't speak peach tree, only Ax.
"Ahh," said the Ax, "I needed that".
The boy thought that he would put down the Ax now, and leave the tree alone, but the Ax kept shouting, "Again, again! Again!" Skipper the half-beagle closed his eyes, afraid to watch, and so only heard it when the little peach tree finally fell, scattering peaches everywhere.
The ax seemed very satisfied, but when the little boy heard his mother call, "Sons 1 through 18, dinner time!" he was overtaken with feelings of guilt and his eyes welled up and he began to cry. Luckily, his brothers were teasing him about being so bad at hide and seek that the boy's parents had no idea he might be upset about anything else. They just thought he was sensitive.
The next day, the father found the poor, little peach tree, cut to ribbons next to his happy ax. The father questioned all the sons, but no one would admit the crime. The little boy, who, as we said, liked to act and had been in school plays, was able to pretend he was surprised like everybody else.
"It would be better for you to admit the crime now," the father told all his sons, "because it will go worse for you if I find out on my own." Nobody believed this, because the principal at their school always said the same thing and it was never true. However, hearing his father say it did make the little boy a little nervous.
For days he was nervous, worried that he wouldn't be able to keep his lie going. But, eventually, the boy felt calm again. The half-beagle, Skipper, was the only one who had seen him chop down the tree and the boy doubted he would tell anyone, or that he even knew chopping down the tree was something wrong.
The days passed and life was very much as it had always been. Only, when the fourth of July came around, there were no peaches for their mother's independence pie. No peaches for peach cobbler. No peaches for peaches n' cream, or for peach skin potatoes. And later that night, no peaches to try to knock fireworks from the sky, or to learn to juggle with.
"Sigh," the father said, "If only we had the peach tree, the holiday would be perfect."
The little boy became very sad at this and wouldn't smile during the fireworks, though it was a very nice display.
The next week, the Short Island family attended the Short Island fruit tree convention; only, since they no longer had a tree, they had to watch an inferior tree win. The little boy was sad and could not smile, so great was his guilt. He wanted to tell his parents very badly that he had been the one to cut down the tree, but was afraid of being punished. Instead, he promised himself he would never tell and would go to his grave with his secret.
When Skipper the half-beagle died the next year from intestinal complications, the boy was secretly glad and could not cry, because now he knew no one could give away his secret.
In school, the boy's drama coach said he would never become a great actor, because he didn't seem to be able to reach the place where he kept his emotions locked up. "Maybe you'll be a good accountant" the drama teacher said. But the boy knew that he was keeping a great secret, and so was a very good actor indeed.
As the boys got older, they began to have many health problems. The doctors said their blood sugar levels were very high, because they weren't eating enough fruit, only candy. And the dentist said they all had to get fillings for the same reason.
"Oh, this never would have happened if we still had that peach tree," the mother said, and the boy felt badly, knowing he was the cause of his entire family's health issues.
The years went by and the peach tree fell into the back of the boy's mind. He thought about it only occasionally, while the rest of the family forgot about it completely. Having finally given up acting, the boy went to college for accounting and became a low lever manager at a large corporation; adding numbers all day and thinking numbers all night. One of his doctors told him the reason his nose twitched was from something called stress, which was also the same reason he lost all his hair. It was either stress or genetics anyway and, after seeing pictures of the young man's family, the doctor was betting on stress. But the doctor couldn't find out where this stress was coming from and the boy grew up into a very unhappy man.
One night, during a dream, his subconscious made him think of the peach tree. There it was on his family's old lawn, with the peaches growing in its branches, and Skipper the half-beagle running under it and barking to keep the young man away. Old memories came flooding back and the man woke up, realizing the secret of the peach tree was still stuck in him and that he had to get it out. His doctor said it was lodged in his esophagus and he would have to get it out on his own, since the doctor didn't have the right instruments. The boy realized the only cure was to go to his family and tell them the truth about the peach tree.
But the next time the whole family would be together was the 4th of July and the young man had to wait a whole 2 months to tell his secret. During this time, the boy twitched and lost hair more than ever. When the day finally came though, the boy had trouble telling them. All through the day he waited, trying to find his courage and coughing on his clogged esophagus. Finally, finding the words, he began to speak.
"Mom, Dad, brothers 1 through 17. I have something I must tell you. It's a horrible thing I've kept secret for all these years. It's ruined my life and now it's stuck in my esophagus and the only way to get it out is to tell you. I was the one... the one who...who chopped down the peach tree!"
"What peach tree?" asked brother 17.
"You mean our OLD peach tree?" chimed in 15.
"The one we ate peaches from," asked brother four, who was always a bit slow on the uptake.
"Yes! Yes, it was me! I did it. Me! I took away our peaches and made us all get fillings! I took away our peaches and got us all high blood sugar, siblings! I took away the peach cobbler and the independence pie! I took away the peaches n' cream, and I know not why! And it has made me so miserable I've lost all my hair and have a twitch."
The family was startled at first, more at being able to remember the peach tree, than anything else. The young man was surprised to see his family wasn't mad at all! Eventually, brothers 1-17 and even his parents started to laugh, and this made the young man astonished.
"Oh, to keep that bottled up all these years!" his mother said.
"Especially such a silly thing and just to avoid being punished." His father hooted. "You've punished yourself more than we ever could have, silly boy."
The young man was amazed and knew it was true. But something wonderful had happened. When he began to tell the truth, the mucus membranes near his esophagus reduced in size and his psychosomatic symptoms ceased to bother him.
It was too late for his hair to grow back, but the young man's twitching stopped and he was able to reach the place where he kept his emotions locked up again. He began to act in Community Theater and only did accounting to pay the bills. That summer, the man bought a peach tree for each member of his family and they all began eating fruit again and their bowels became more regular once more! And they lived happily ever after.