Tammy Tolbert: Apples (Essay/Memoir)

My Southern Legitimacy Statement: I was born in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Southern Ohio, where driving forty five minutes one way puts you in West Virginia and thirty five minutes the other way puts you in Kentucky. I was raised by good, god fearing Kentucky folk who ended up in Ohio to get out of the coal mines. I spent a great deal of my life in Kentucky, some in Florida and I reside in Alabama. I do hope Y’all are not just laughing right now, saying Ohio, or if you will disregard my work all together. I was brought up southern and taught to be proud of my heritage. Southern is not necessarily what line you were born on, it can also be who you were born to. My heart is southern, as are my morals. I am as southern as the day is long. When I was small I was taught to sing “Dixie” and play it by ear on the piano. I was taught manners and respect. I have taught my daughters to be southern ladies and my sons to be good southern gentlemen. My accent is thick because those that taught me to speak spoke that way. I have no formal education, I was recently published in the May 2017 issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.


I sat on the couch beside him. He had two shiny red apples in his lap. He polished them with his white undershirt. I sat and watched him, the apples seemed even shinier. He raised up a little and got his pocket knife from the pocket of his blue work pants. He sat back and opened the knife. It had a bone handle, he kept the blade very sharp. I had watched him many times before. He pushed the blade in a sliding motion and began to peel away the shiny red on the first apple revealing the stark white crisp inside. He turned the apple as he peeled it in such a way that the pointy silver end of the blade would slide under the bright red peel in a smooth strip never breaking it, until one long ribbon of peel remained.

He took the peel and sat it in my hand. I sort of pushed it gently back into the shape of an apple and giggled as I did. “Aint that somthin, the trick is to never break the peel. When you are old enough to peel one thisa way, you can take it gentle round yer head three times and then throw it behind yer head. It will land in the shape of the first letter of the name of the man you will marry.” Grandma came in the room and said, “Don’t fill that child’s head with all that superstition.” Grandpa snickered “That is what my Mother said, it ain’t nonsense, yer Mother said it too.” Grandma said, “Better you would do to read the good book to her, lest she will turn out full of the devil.” All the while Grandpa was slicing the apple and feeding the tangy, sweet, crunchy slices to me.

I thought of this today as I peeled an apple for my Granddaughter. I thought of how my grandfather smelled like Old Spice. I thought of how blue my Grandmother’s eyes were. I thought about the little white house they lived in, the big picture window beside the floor model television. The wood paneling on the walls. The brown couch and the coffee table with the crocheted doily and the glass candy dish.

I peeled the first apple peel in one long red slice and fed the apple to my Granddaughter. I told her the story about the peel as we sat on the couch. My Husband said, “Don’t tell her that stuff, you’re like one of those Darling’s from the Andy Griffith Show.” I laughed at him as he called out “Hooty Hoo, Hooty Hoo.” “Okay Barney Fife, I am just telling her like they told me.” I said. “Did you do that and see my initials? “he said. “I didn’t when I did that, but I did get your initial when I twisted the stem. “I told him. “Oh Lord help me.” he responded shaking his head. My granddaughter picked up the other apple and said, “What do I do with the stem MiMi?”