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Between us

Bright red apples and humility

oet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called him “The Ancient Mari- ner,” he who stopped a young man rushing to keep appointments. He holds him with his skinny hand. ... He holds him with his glittering eye. ... (Because the mariner has a tale to tell.) And thus spake on that ancient man. ...


In my case, it was an ancient man indeed who stopped me in the pro- duce department of a supermarket in Valparaiso, Ind. I drove my cart at so hard a pace (I had one hour to make a meeting) that I nearly ran into a man who stood rubbing his chin and staring fixedly at a bin of apples. Whiskers sugared his jaw. He wore a cap yanked down on his ears. Wrinkles scored his earlobes.

I would have steered around him, but he clutched the edge of my cart. “Fella?” he said. “Fella, you got a minute?” “Sorry,” I said, preparing to bull my way through.

Wangerin, an author of many novels and books of essays, is an ELCA pastor and senior research pro- fessor at Valparaiso [Ind.] University (walterwangerinjr. org). His “Between us” column appears quarterly in The Lutheran.

DESIGNPICS By Walter Wangerin Jr.

But he held my cart. His eyes were moist with intensity. “It’s them apples,” he said. “Bright red appleas allus do this to me. Make me so mad”—he worked his lips—“I wanta pop!”

He cast a self-conscious glance at me and tried to smile, but failed in the force of his anger. Several broad gaps in his teeth gave him the grin of a jack-o’-lantern—and I thought I knew why he was angry: he couldn’t bite the apple of his desiring.

“Listen,” he said. “I was in Israel,

travelin’ the Jesus way, you know. I looked out the bus window and saw some apples in a fruit stand. Apples like ....” His voice rose. With his thumbs and forefingers he made a circle in the air. “Apples this big,” he said. “Bright red and big as a cantaloupe.”

By thy long gray beard and glitter- ing eye. Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

“Well, you know I had to hop off the bus. I went and poked through the basket till I found the biggest apple. Was pounds for weight! I said, ‘I’m agonna show this to my grand- kids, somethin’ folk don’t grow in America.’ So I tuck care of that apple all through the Jesus walk as far as to Jerusalem. Then we took our last bus ride to the airport. What I’m gonna tell you, fella—what I’m wanta say: it

28 The Lutheran •

didn’t take that jackstraw preacher but half a secont.”

My mariner narrowed his eyes into darts and sighted his fury on something awful and far away. “The guide said I could get my apple through customs if I kep’ it in a brown paper bag, like I was gonna eat it before boarding. Then this tour-preacher that was sittin’ beside me says, ‘Watcha got in that bag?’ And I say, ‘Biggest, reddest apple I ever did see.’ And he says, ‘Show me,’ and I do, and he says, ‘You gonna eat that?’ and I say, ‘No.’ Ah, it didn’t take but a secont. I looked away and when I looked back ....” Suddenly the mariner grasped my cart in two hands. He leaned his weight on it. He blew out a ragged stream of air, laboring to speak the next words: “When I looked back round, that jackstraw preacher had his penknife out ....”

The old man in the produce department, he began to blink, bewildered. “I couldn’t move,” he said. “Couldn’t say the first word.” Then he noticed that his fingers were wound through the criss-cross rods of my shopping cart. Quickly he snatched his hands back and offered me a smile, shrugging. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I allus get this way.”

I said, “No need to apologize.” His shrug seemed to have fin- ished his tale, so I began to wheel my cart backward, saying some-

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