We were met at the orchard's entrance by a woman named Fran and her life partner Shirley. Both women were wearing overalls and were sitting in a storage shed with the doors removed. Before Fran would give us our buckets and plastic bags, she insisted that we review a list of rules that were printed on a white board that was leaning against Shirley's lawn chair:
1. No climbing trees.
2. Pick only from the trees with white ribbons.
3. No standing on the buckets.
4. No throwing apples.
I could almost guarantee that someone in our family would violate at least one of the rules, but I figured that it would be in our best interest to keep that information to myself.
As we headed into the orchard, I gave each of my children a plastic grocery bag and told them that they could pick 10 apples each.
"We're done!" they shouted in unison thirty seconds later.
After spending five additional minutes taking a self-guided scenic tour of the orchard, which included spectacular views of several barbed-wire fences and numerous "Keep Out!" signs, we returned to Fran and Shirley, who, in our absence, had produced a fruit scale and a small fold-out table.
Fran peered into the kids' plastic bags and smiled. My husband and I grimaced at what she pulled out of them. Apples that weren't the size of golf balls were covered with brown spots or, in the case of one specimen retrieved from Cortlen's bag, a large worm.
I was trying so hard to restrain my excitement over the realization that I was going to get to BUY three bags of rotten apples that I failed to notice that Fran and Shirley were looking at me like I was one.
"What is this?" asked Fran, holding up a greenish apple the size of a plum tomato.
I thought that it was weird that she didn't know.
"An apple," I said.
"It's a Golden Delicious," she spat.
The apple didn't look so delicious to me. It wasn't even close to being ripe.
"You are only allowed to pick Royal Gala and McIntosh apples," Fran barked. "This apple is NOT from a white ribbon tree."
I apologized profusely for our grievous error and told Fran that I had no idea where the apple came from or who had picked it.
"I'm going to have to weigh this apple separate from the rest," Fran huffed.
"Don't strain yourself," said my lovely husband under his breath.
The total charge for 29 rotten apples and 1 illegal one came to $5.75.
I fingered the 50 in my wallet, but my husband shook his head furiously, so I gave Fran a 5 dollar bill and 75 cents in pennies and nickels instead.