Finding Favor


(Photo credit: The University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf4-03422-xml, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)

It was the result of a challenge that I ended up in an unattractive dress seated in a claustrophobic tent for four hours. It was for the good of the school, Bentley College. They held a fair every first week of school, a way to get our last little kicks as well as fund more Student Union activities. Soon classes would doom us to hard work and chronic weariness. The newbies came as well, just sprung from their bucolic hometowns, ready to jump into the world of hand-picked Bentley students. Lucky them, luckier us since we knew the ropes. So it was a welcoming party by default.

Nate and Erica got me to volunteer after she told him about my palm reading sessions last spring. The part she left out was that I conducted them reluctantly. Instead, she wove a tale of how effortlessly I read the landscapes of students’ palms. She insisted I mentioned things they noted were correct. The seekers came to my room surreptitiously and demanded I reveal future outcomes–whether they would fail or pass a mid-term or if some boy was the bona fide one and only. I was an excellent guesser, a tad intuitive at my best. It was nothing to get excited about.

It was bothersome at the least, and embarrassing at worst. I had heretofore been known as a budding intellectual. I wanted to become a research psychologist. Now the word was that I was a fortune-teller. I should have squelched the talk, as mother would have disowned me. My father–well, he would find it unthinkable and therefore untrue.

Nate didn’t know about my palmistry avocation because guys had no interest in that sort of thing. They lived in their own worlds. For Nick, that meant his main pleasure, after making Dean’s List, was gambling. Poker to be exact, nothing better than that. He was good, that we all knew as word travels fast when a boy on the verge of manhood has the money to drive a car that takes your breath away. It was the most attractive thing about him, although I suspect it was his father’s loaner. Nate didn’t talk to me much the first two years so when he challenged me to dress up and tell fortunes at the Fall Revels I promptly declined. Then Erica and he concocted this scheme of betting on whether I would or not. The money: fifty dollars donated to the Union, fifty to the winner. It worked. I relented to get them out of my hair. Erica is a moderate friend of a dear friend so I could manage to do this once. Nate, simply an irritant. He later bet me I wouldn’t make one hundred the whole night, at two dollars a palm reading.

The night was cooling off, fortunately for all. I shifted in my chair, waiting for people to line up. Moths flew around the candle light first then several had been shepherded my way and I said the right things, remained ambiguous enough to thrill them, and saw good tidings in the distance. More dropped in to say hi and get “the inside info.” It was going well, after all.

I recalled enough from reading  Madame Palantine’s Handbook of Palms and Fortunes to indicate the tracings on the hand and their professed significance. It had been left on the train my family took to Yellowstone the summer before twelfth grade. It fascinated me. I have a good memory, you could say unusually so, and after I read it twice I had the details.

Anyway, it was easy. People want to believe things. They want to hear their hopes given a vote of probability. They have secrets they won’t tell to most people, but if put them in a dimly lit tent with a person seated with confidence, create a hint of mystery, and they give themselves away somehow. It’s my foreignness, I think. I have an accent courtesy of having lived in Croatia the first half of my life. If I let it slip it adds interest and it attached itself to my predictions.

I was entertained; so were the customers. But by eleven o’clock I was tired, I wanted an iced cold drink with my friends. When a straggler sat down, I said nothing. I may have sighed but so did she. I was startled. She had hooded hazel eyes that must have informed the whole world of heartbreak. They were brimming with quiet, painful things. I took her hands in mine. They rested like baby birds sleeping, twitchiness enclosed in elegance. I felt her sadness pierce my center. Boldness swept over me.

“Your aunt, she has left,” I said.

She leaned closer.

“I’m so sorry she died. What do you want of me?”

This girl filled the tent with an invisible net of aching. I saw her hands, how narrow of palm, how tapered the fingertips, the many fine, long lines that mapped her skin. She was fragile yet there was a survival instinct that gave strength. I could feel her taking my measure. September’s piquant air was inhaled as though it cleared her mind.

She gave me a crooked smile. One eye let go a tear.

“Aunt Sari back.”

“Of course you do. But do you want the house she left? On the riverbank?”

She swiped at her wet cheeks. “How can I know? I haven’t gotten to that point! I just came to college to get away from the family!” Her voice was now a considerable force. “Who are you, anyway?”

“I don’t know, well, I was just sitting here and you came in and then I realized your aunt–”

She drew back and stood to leave. Not so much angry as just done. I was, as well. We entered the velvety night and gazed at the crowd. People were restive, milling about, chattering away, the night having bestowed good cheer on all. I felt stunned. In fact I wondered if she would run off and complain and if I should make amends when she turned to me and gave me a little shake of the shoulders.

“Well, then, I’m Favor Wexler. I haven’t a clue about what you just did but it marks the start of an interesting year.”

“I’m Celia,” I laughed–why not? “I’m not really into this, I just… well, I prefer to be known as a serious student of human nature.”

“Really? Good job,” she said and managed to almost smile.

We threaded our way through the clumped groups of students. As I walked up to Erica and Nate I held my hand out to him.

“Pay up!”

He raised an eyebrow at me, but he beamed as his glance slid over to Favor. He got out his wallet. I made a prediction right then and there.

An Apple is a Rose

In Michigan, the apple orchards welcomed us kids with open arms, or so it seemed. There were tall cornstalks and Indian corn, an array of brilliant pumpkins and bales of hay lining the pathway to the cider mill. Yellow jackets buzzed around, drawn just like us to the abundance of sugars. We would watch the apples get ground and pressed into a pulpy mess between burlap-lined wooden, slatted trays. The sweet tang of the unpasteurized elixir was nature’s finest; we drank it hot and spicy or ice-cold. Close by was the worn white wooden stand where we would line up to choose plain or cinnamon sugar donuts. Their rich aroma made us instantly ravenous.

But the best part was scrambling atop the hay-laden wagons pulled by tractors. We were taken deep into the gnarly trees, the orchard. We piled out and stepped around the downed fruit that imbued the sharp, bright air with a heavy fermenting sweetness. Our parents let us roam. We jumped and climbed for the good apples, the round, red, yellow, and green globes that tantalized from the  higher branches. As we gathered, we checked for worms or softness of bruises and placed each apple into baskets we carried. The wind whipped our hair and fingers got chilled, but that first bite of a crisp Red Delicious picked from a tree was like a gift to the tongue. The ride back, hay sticking in our hair and socks, was quieter as we held on tightly to our heavy loads. We  knew there would be time for one last greasy donut and a hot cup of cider, the steam drifting about our noses, before we hit the road. And there would be Dutch apple pie after dinner the next day, with more desserts to come.

Now we live in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland, where cabbages are grown for decoration in yards and cider comes from a gallon jug.  Over twenty years ago we looked for places like those of our childhoods. We didn’t find anything quite the same, although we have made the pastoral “fruit loop” drive east of Portland more than once. But there are delicious, bountiful apples here and we anticipate them each fall.

On Saturday when we awakened, the view from the window held rain-thickened clouds, like a grey cottony batting that had absorbed all the moisture from the Columbia River or the Pacific. The October sky let loose a few times as we prepared for our annual foray to the Portland Nursery Apple Festival. We pulled on raincoats under which were layered shirts and sweatshirts. Our waterproof hiking boots had finally been taken out of the closet a week before. Then suddenly, sunlight dazzled; I reached for my sunglasses and unzipped my coat. Ahhh. Autumn in our lovely Oregon.

By the time we arrived, the sky was trying hard for a cheerful  blue. The freshened air had that familiar nip. We strode through the gates towards large wooden boxes that held the forty varieties of apples we had come to admire and select to take home. In a tent at the back of the nursery, there were fifty-five varieties, all from Washington and Oregon, for taste testing, but we like getting up close to the mounds of fruit, smoothing brightly hued skins and sniffing the subtle perfumes.

As if their comeliness is not enough, the names of apples are enough for me to swoon. Please note these few: Orleans Reinette, Elstar, Ginger Golden, Ambrosia, Red Winesap; Splendour, Newton Pippin, White Winter Pearmain, Yellow Bellflower. My husband chose Golden Russet, Spitzenberg. I chose Ozark Gold and Honey Crisp. And threw in a couple of tantalizing Cascade pears, as the sign promised its juice would casade down my chin.

Today I discovered that if you got an aerial photograph of an apple tree, it would seem transformed by its similar features into a rose bush, and that a rosehip’s design reflects that of an apple. I was informed by the gentleman at the information desk that an apple is, in fact, part of the rose family. I can certainly understand this–their shared forms, inescapable attractiveness, and a penchant for making the beholder (or eater–have you ever tried fresh rose ice cream? Compare this to warm apple crisp and tell me which is better!) deeply appreciative. A congenial, humble, yet beguiling relative.

We listened to a live band (which reminded us of klezmer music but was billed as a bohemian cabaret ensemble) and we savored apple strudel. I watched children scamper, including a giggling little girl who climbed right into a big apple bin before her mother found her out. It was good to absorb the happiness around us. Rain clouds scudded across the blue sky as people sat on hay bales and sipped cider, lingered over caramel apples. We wandered and ate and felt nostalgic until the wind got an edge to it and the rain moved close once more.

It is likely we will bake very little now that our children are grown, but freshly sliced apples on a plate are all we need for dessert tonight. Afterall, an apple is–remarkably and wonderfully–a rose, just one more Northwest beauty.