Uncle Apple Jelly

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

A boy remembers his favorite Christmas.

Uncle Apple Jelly

Uncle Apple Jelly was my mother’s uncle. He lived on top of a mountain, and we went to see him at Christmas. This caused great anger to my father, who had to borrow his cousin’s Jeep to get us up there. 

The trip started before Thanksgiving when Mom and I made fruitcakes. She mixed fruit and nuts in a bowl and I cut brown paper to line the pans.  Most of the pans were small and rectangular but one was round with a tube in the middle. My mother treasured it, “This one’s for Uncle App.”

The next week Mom told Dad to, “Pick a day, Bob, so I can write Uncle App and tell him we’re coming.” It was a long time before cell phones. Uncle App never even had a regular phone because phone lines weren’t strung on that mountain.

This ignited my father, who got red in the face, but Mom was prepared. “He’s all alone on that mountain, Bob. We’re his only relatives and if you think I’m not going to visit my dear old uncle for Christmas, you’re mistaken!”

Dad fumed and sputtered until “Saturday” flew out.  And that year, the year I was seven, Saturday was Christmas Eve. Dad was so mad he forgot because he was already on the phone to his cousin. He ranted and raved until he exploded, “Jackass Apple Jelly!” and hung up.

Saturday morning, I piled in the back of the Jeep wearing my puffed coat and the cowboy boots that pinched my toes, but I was so proud of. Mom wedged the bag of presents beside me. The fruitcake was wrapped up in tinfoil and sat on the top. Dad turned the key in the ignition and looked at me in the rearview mirror. “You know he’s crazy, Joe. Don’t believe what he says.”

“He’s a nice old man who thinks up stories for Joe,” my mother said, and I agreed.

Dad wasn’t exaggerating that it was a long hard trip. It wasn’t fifty miles but the last fifteen of it wound around that mountain like a corkscrew. Cliffs jutted over the road and there were enormous ruts. Sometimes, Dad drove so close to the edge we held our breath. “If we went over, who’d know?” Mom said because nobody used that road except for the Birch brothers who lived even farther up the road than Uncle App.

We’d never actually met the Birch brothers. When we questioned Uncle App about how he got food when he didn’t have a car, he’d say, “The Birch bothers left me a hundred-pound sack of beans.” The Birch brothers left him a hundred-pound sack of coffee. They dropped off a sack of dog food for Sam. Sam was his enormous dog who stretched half-way across the sitting room.

We’d been inching up the corkscrew road for an hour when it started to snow.

“Is that snow?” My mother squinted through the windshield. “Isn’t this fun, Joe, snowing on Christmas Eve!”

“I don’t like it,” Dad said. There were only a few flakes, but we hadn’t seen a house in miles. Dad looked at his watch; it was past lunchtime. “You’ve got twenty minutes, Mayene. Give Uncle App his presents, eat a piece of the cake, and we’re off.” Dad said this every year, but the snow was starting to stick in the woods.

The sky had an odd pink glow when we rounded the last turn and stopped at the end of a lane. An old board was nailed to a tree – Apple Jelly Jones – was scratched on the sign. “There’s the house!” I cried. It sat at the top of the ridge, huge and scary with windows that gleamed like eyes. “There’s a light in the window.”

Dad pointed to Uncle App’s lane that went straight down, then straight up.  “That’s a mud hole, Mayene. We’re going to get stuck.”

“We’ll walk.” Mom threw open her door and grabbed the presents from the back. “Come on, Joe,” she handed me the fruitcake as the wind blasted her hair. Dad slammed his door all muttering as my mother smiled, “We could stay the night.”  

“Don’t joke about that!” Dad hunched in his coat as my cowboy boots crunched across the snow. The cold stung my cheeks as I held the silver fruitcake with gloved hands not to drop it.  Mom walked head down, straight into the swirling snow which blew even harder now. The fields sagged inward like a bowl. The old barn looked like it was watching us, then the hill went straight up, wet and slick, and Dad had to haul me and Mom by our coats.

When we got to the top the wind whipped like a hurricane. Snow blinded our eyes as we ran to the wall that surrounded the house. Snow was two inches deep on the wall as the kitchen door opened and Sam flew out. He barked joyous and happy as Uncle App beamed in the doorway. His hair was knotted in a ponytail on top of his head. He wore long johns covered by a huge orange sweater that stretched past his knees. It had a pocket for everything – his glasses, scissors, even one for his pocket watch.

“The Cavalry has arrived with the fruitcake!” he cried as he hugged my mother and looked over her shoulder at me. “You’ve grown six inches, Joe.  Come in, Bob, take a load off.” He whacked Dad on the back and snow flew everywhere.

We hung our coats on the coat tree which was really a tree Uncle App brought in for hanging up coats. “I’ll make us some coffee,” Uncle App looked around the kitchen for the coffee pot which was hidden under a mound of dirty dishes.

“I’ll make it,” Mom got straight to work like every year. “You men go sit by the fire.”

So, we went into the sitting room and Uncle App settled back in his recliner. Mom rattled the dishes as Dad inched carefully onto the couch. It didn’t have cushions anymore just a blanket thrown over the springs and some of the springs stuck through. I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of Uncle App.

Blankets were nailed over the doors and the archway. “No sense heating the whole house when I live in two rooms,” Uncle App said, and Dad nodded in agreement.

There was a stone fireplace and a crackling fire. Worn floors, threadbare rugs as I breathed dog and bacon and coffee. A table was pushed in the corner under the bookshelves. Little lamps glowed in the corners and outside the snow swirled like a wonderland. Uncle App tilted forward in his chair and his black eyes caught the fire’s reflection. “It’s the biggest year yet for spaceships, Joe. I’ve seen three.”

“Last year it was two,” I said.

“I think it’s because I don’t tell on them. Maybe they think I’m friendly or this mountain is too remote. They set down in the bowl where you just walked across. They sink in for a while and hum. I see them with my binoculars. They’re probing the earth; I find their holes. The last one was a month ago. It came at sunset and stayed for an hour.”

“It’s a record,” I said.

“It surely is,” Dad sneered.

Uncle App shook his finger at Dad, “You can laugh and scoff if you want to, Bob, but if you ever saw a silver spaceship you wouldn’t forget!”

“Were they Martians?” I asked as Mom’s face appeared behind Uncle App’s head. She waved at me not to egg him on, but it was too late.

“I think they were, Joe. They stayed around the spaceship so I can’t be sure. They have rapid movements, not like ours, and I think it has something to do with the basement. You know I have a basement under this house and there’s a trap door that leads down to another basement. There’re all sorts of tunnels in this mountain from the abandoned coal mines. If they’ve tunneled into them, they could walk straight in here.” His eyes got big as he asked, “Would you like to go down there?”

I got excited to think about it, but Dad said, “Uncle App, what with the snow and all, whenever the coffee’s ready,” he raised his voice to the kitchen, “we got to head back.”

“Maybe next time,” I said because I didn’t want him to forget it. Then because I’d never heard of a name like his before I asked, “How did you get your name?” Mom’s face reappeared again, and Dad threw back his head and laughed.

Uncle App’s eyes gleamed as he leaned toward me, “Well, the story goes that it was apple picking time on all the farms around here. Apple pies were cooling in the windows. Apple butter was cooking over the fires. There was apple whisky and apple cakes and winding down through the hayfields came my father courting my mother. Her mother had a pot of apple jelly cooking on the stove and the smell blew out the window. ‘What’s that wonderful smell?’ my father asked.”

“She said it was apple jelly. Then he and my mother wandered down along the haystacks and the smell of the apple jelly was so thick there, it overpowered my father my mother. They got so dizzy, they had to lie down to get their senses back. Nine months later when I was born, they named me Apple Jelly. I’ve always liked it. If Jones is your last name, you got to get creative with the first one.”

“Coffee’s ready!” Mom hollered. And we went into clean cups on a clean table and each one had a slice of fruitcake. Mom poured coffee in every cup and Uncle App pulled a flask of whisky from a pocket and poured some in each cup, even a thimble full in mine, then Mom handed him the bag of presents.

“Oh, now you shouldn’t have.” Uncle App began to unwrap socks and long johns, and soap and the inevitable red toothbrush. His eyes cherished each gift like he’d never seen them before. “This is so wonderful!”

Dad set his cup in the saucer and looked out the window to a swirling sky. The wind blasted against the house and Uncle App beamed, “Santa will make good time in this headwind.”

“Drink up,” Dad said but Uncle App put his hand out.

“Wait, I have something for Joe.” He searched through his pockets and pulled out a can opener, a ball of yarn, then finally a wad of toilet paper. “Here you go,” he said as I slowly unwrapped a tooth. “That’s not just any tooth.” Uncle App showed me the hole in the back of his mouth, “That’s my very last wisdom tooth. Keep it safe, Joe. You never know when you’ll need it.”

“Hats and coats!” Dad hollered and Mom whisked the cups to the sink and wiped the table.

“It is worse,” she said as she squinted out the window.

“Thank you for my tooth.” I squeezed Uncle App around the middle, and he patted my head. Then we bundled into our coats and scurried across the fields as the wind whipped us sideways. We dipped down in the bowl where the spaceships landed and Dad drug us up the hill where the snow sat five inches deep on the Jeep.

We hunched inside it freezing as Dad turned the key in the ignition. There was a whirring sound, a ticking sound, then it died. “Don’t kid around, Bob,” Mom said as Dad ground the ignition over and over.

Finally, he got out, threw up the hood, and fiddled with the cables. “We need a jump,” he shouted at the sky like one would jolt down, then he kicked at the tires.

“We can’t sit here,” Mom said. “We have to go back.”

Dad slammed the hood so hard snow fell off the trees.

***

I was excited to cross back over the fields. I ran fast over the bowl so the spaceship wouldn’t get us. I thought maybe there was a light in the barn but I couldn’t be sure, then we were scurrying up the hill in the driving snow. The old house swirled in a blind of white. I slipped but Dad grabbed my arm. The wind stung my eyes. My teeth chattered. My fingers froze through my gloves.

“We’ll soon be out of it,” Dad said as we reached the top. The stone wall stood covered in snow.

“Uncle App!” Mom screamed. “Uncle App, the battery died.” And we ran toward the light and burst through the kitchen door.

“Oh, my children,” he cried. “My dearest, dears,” he rubbed my frozen cheeks and beamed. “Isn’t this something, Joe? Isn’t this wonderful?” We laughed and it felt good to laugh and thaw out as Mom hung our coats on the coat tree. The coffee was warm from the last time and we sat around the table as Uncle App poured more whisky into our cups. He upended the flask in Dad’s. “Maybe they planned this, Bob, so you’ll stay the night.”

“You think the Martians zapped our car?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t put it past them.”

Dad sank low in his chair, but now he sat upright. “Do you have a battery charger in the basement?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been down there for years. And you never know, Bob, maybe Santa will bring you a new battery on his sleigh.”

“Does Santa come here?” I asked because it was getting dark on Christmas Eve and how would Santa know where to bring my football. Mom and Dad looked at each other as Uncle App nodded his head.

“Of course, he knows, Joe. He knows everything but it’s different out here. First there’re the spaceships and interfering frequencies and then the crazy weather. Santa’s equipped for a lot, but you never know.”

“Could the Birch brother’s give us a jump?” Dad said.

“That’s eight miles walk in a blizzard, Bob,” Mom said. “We’ll just have to stay.  I’ll fix us some supper. Uncle App, can I check in the pantry?”

“Help yourself,” he said. “Now, Bob, if you go down to the basement take that flashlight.” Uncle App pointed to the tall black flashlight on the shelf. “And be careful, don’t fall in their mineshaft. I know they’re tunneling. I hear their voices at night.”

Dad strapped on his coat and I strapped on mine and followed him to the basement door which was inside the kitchen.

“Stay behind me,” Dad said as we inched down the steps in utter darkness. It smelled old and cold and when the door to the kitchen closed, there was only a sliver of light. Dad shined the flashlight on cobwebs crawling with spiders and boxes stacked to the ceiling! Dad stepped off the very last step, engulfed in papers and crates with only a tunnel throughout. We heard scurrying and Dad swung the light as a long tail slithered out of sight.

“What was it?” I asked.

“A rat as big as cat,” he said, and I laughed. “Keep sharp, Joe.” Dad inched through the stacks as we heard a loud crash. Dad swung the light to the corner and two yellow eyes gleamed back. “Just a fox after the rat,” Dad hissed but his voice shook.

Then, the flashlight died, went out. We stood in utter darkness! Dad whacked at the light, cursed, whacked. The crack under the door stretched down as we hurried back up. Dad’s face was chalk white as we burst into the kitchen to the smell of hot soup. “Tomato soup!” my mother cried. “It’s red for Christmas.”

“We need something green,” I said.

“There’re six cans of peas.”

Uncle App grabbed my hands and danced me around.  “Rick peas, chick-peas, lick on a stick-peas,” and we fell laughing into our chairs as Mom set a tower of peanut butter crackers on the table and poured hot soup in our bowls.

“We could make snow cream,” she nodded to my father. “Uncle App has canned cream. Get us some snow, Bob.”

Uncle App shook his head, “Don’t get it where the spaceship lands. No telling what’s in it.”

“We have to leave a snack for Santa and the reindeer,” I said.

“Well, we have fruitcake for Santa, and we can set out dog food for the reindeer.” Uncle App looked at the window into a whirl of white.

“I’ll scour the house for blankets and pillows,” Mom cried, “and we’ll all bed down by the fire. Come on, Bob, you can help me.” She pulled Dad up and they went off behind the blankets to the colder regions of the house.

Uncle App let out a deep, long sigh.

“What is it, sir?”

“Well, a boy needs a Christmas tree.” Uncle App put on his thinking glasses. “We can’t chop one down, but we do have the coat tree,” and he walked over and threw our coats in the corner. “Now what do we have that’s silver?” He spotted the silver fruitcake and we cut out stars from the tinfoil and hung them on the tree. “What about spoons, Joe?  Your mother has them so shiny.” He wiped our spoons on his sweater and we hung on the forks and the knives. We rooted in the garbage for soup cans and washed the labels off and they gleamed like golden bells. “Did you ever see such a tree?”

I never did.

Mom and Dad came back with mounds of blankets and Dad got a giant pan of snow and we had snow cream with chocolate syrup.

“Did you see anything out there, Bob?” Uncle App asked.

“You mean like spaceships?”

“I mean like Santa and the reindeer.”

“I don’t know, Uncle App,” Mom said. “We’re so snowed in Santa may not get to come like he planned.”

“Nonsense, I’ve always suspected Santa used this mountain as a secret stash in case of emergencies. But then, the spaceships may have discovered that.”

Mom made me a bed on the floor, and I was warm under the covers as the spoons dangled in firelight. There came a blast of wind and I looked at the empty chimney. “I don’t have my stocking here.” 

“Here you go,” Uncle App took off his sock and his hairy toes gleamed as he hung his stocking on the mantel. Snow rattled the windows as Sam stretched long by the fire and Dad lazed on the couch and Mom knelt down and kissed me. Uncle App said, “What a nice Christmas, Joe,” and I closed my eyes all safe in the storm.

***

Christmas morning the sun sparkled on the fork tines. It sparkled on the spoons and the icicles outside the windowpanes. Beyond that everything dazzled in white. Mom and Dad were buried under the covers on the couch. Uncle App snored peacefully in the recliner while Sam stretched awake beside me.

My eyes shot to the mantel where Uncle App’s stocking bulged. “Santa’s come!” I cried throwing off the covers and the fruitcake was gone, and the dog food missing, too. “What could it be?” I said as I squeezed the sock.

Mom and Dad stirred out of the blankets as Uncle App righted his chair. “It could be anything,” he said. And I took out the top bulge which was wrapped in toilet paper. It was round like a baseball but heavy as a rock and I slowly unwrapped a brown rock tied up with a string.

“Maybe you should unwind the string,” Uncle App said and when I did the rock fell apart in two halves. Each half was filled with purple crystals that shone in the sun.

“It’s a geode,” Dad said. “Purple ones are rare, Joe.” I’d never seen anything like it – a whole world inside a brown rock.

“Maybe it captures the signals from their spaceship,” Uncle App said, so, I held it to my ear as Dad threw logs on the fire and they crackled and hissed.

“There’s something else,” Mom said. And I reached in my stocking and pulled out a red toothbrush like the one she got for Uncle App.

“Now we have matching ones,” he cried. “And there’s another bulge, Joe, reach in for that.”

I had to reach way down to the toe and it was all wrapped up with toilet paper. I was holding my breath, unwrapping, unwrapping, feeling something hard and round. A gold coin! “It’s pure gold!”

“And mighty extravagant of Santa,” Mom said. “It might be his favorite coin, too, and maybe he wants it back.”

“Santa doesn’t want it back,” Uncle App said. “Who knows but maybe it’s part of a hidden treasure that’s buried in this mountain. What do you think, Bob?”

“Will it buy me a car?” Dad said.

“It’s worth a whole car!” I couldn’t believe it.

Mom got up to put the coffee on and Uncle App went over beside the tree. “There’s something else, Joe.” He hefted a bundle wider than his arms. “It’s mighty heavy, Joe.” He sagged back under the weight and it clinked together as he dropped the bundle into my lap.

It was wrapped in a blanket and tied up with string and when the blanket fell off there was a big sack.

“Maybe it’s full of beans,” Dad said. “Of course, they’d be magic beans.” And I opened the sack and out spilled marbles! Cat eyes and silver steelies, marbles of every color and size rolled across the floor. Dad shook his head and laughed.

“There’s one more present, Joe. It was stuck in the corner.” Uncle App handed me a small box wrapped in a dishtowel.

When I unfolded it – just what I wanted. “A Swiss Army Knife!”

“Seen action, too,” Dad nodded. “Santa probably had to repair the sleigh with it. There’s a screwdriver and a corkscrew. Anything you need in case of emergency.” One by one he showed me all the  attachments. My knife turned into a toolbox!

“Coffee’s ready,” Mom called, and I ran to show her all the features of my knife. Uncle App went around the cups again with his Christmas flask, upending plenty in Dad’s.

“I hate to mention this,” Dad rubbed his stomach, “but what’s for dinner?”

“There’s plenty of oatmeal,” Mom laughed. “We can pour on canned cream.”

Uncle App whacked his fist on the table. “Don’t worry about your stomach, Bob. You’re getting a glorious feast. And Mayene won’t have to do a thing.”

Dad rolled his eyes and looked out the window. “Is it coming by spaceship?”

“I sent a signal to that spaceship. They’re going to help us. It was hard to convince them because they don’t know about you, Bob. They know that Joe believes and Mayene believes. But do you believe?”

Dad shook his head, “I believe what I see.”

Uncle App pulled out his watch and pointed to the door of the basement. “Well, look straight at that door because they’ll be here any second.”

Oh, such a pounding!

“Open up for Christmas!” big voices boomed. Dad’s eyes got huge as the doorknob twisted and giant men in red sweaters and white beards burst through the door.

The Birch brothers stomped coal dust all over the floor as they brought in sacks filled with baked ham, hot rolls, sweet potatoes, and a giant wedge of cheese. Apple pie steamed from the oven. “This is from the underground kitchen,” they winked, and Mom got plates and heated the peas, and we ate and ate.

Mom leaned back with a happy sigh. “What more could we want?”

“A new battery,” Dad quipped, and the Birch brothers promised to help him.

And later on, Mom washed the dishes as Uncle App and I sat close by the fire. “This is my very best Christmas,” I told him.

Uncle App patted my head and smiled. “It’s my best Christmas, too, Joe. And next year we’ll get you a spaceship.”


Submitted: November 29, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Suzanne Mays. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Serge Wlodarski

Good story.

Sun, November 29th, 2020 6:25pm

D. Thurmond aka JEF

A fine example of smooth flowing story telling. The characters were fun and the ending was unpredictable. --- I liked it a lot.

Sun, November 29th, 2020 9:28pm

Suzanne Mays

Thank you so much. I lived on top of a mountain once. It had a dirt road, enormous ruts and we often got stuck. Fun to revisit from the safety of my computer chair. All the best in writing!

Mon, November 30th, 2020 2:01pm

Suzanne Mays

Thank you. It was fun to work on and think about. I'm glad you liked it.

Mon, November 30th, 2020 2:13pm

D Mays

Wonderful story. More Christmas stories please. Loved this one!

Mon, November 30th, 2020 11:24pm

Suzanne Mays

Thank you, D. I'm glad you liked it. Christmas stories - don't get me started.

Tue, December 1st, 2020 3:50pm

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