It's a two-hour round trip from our house and the apple-picking farm.
It takes ten minutes for three kids to pick more apples than we could eat in a month. Half that if there's a gentle but unexpected rain falling.
There is something wrong with this.
There are probably closer pick-your-own farms, but honestly, despite the unequal drive-to-fun ratio, I doubt we'll try any of them. We really like ours. It's cheap. It has none of the things that many suburban New Jersey families seem to crave in a farm, there's no corn maze, no petting zoo, no haystack pyramid, but what the farm lacks in family-friendly amenities, it makes up for in surliness.
"How are the trees this year?" my wife asked, spreading across her face her honest but twitchy smile, the only kind she can make anymore.
The woman just stared at her. Somewhere down in her phlemy, leathered throat, she made a grunt. Perhaps it was gas.
"Good! Good!" I jumped in, clapping my hands and rubbing them together like she had just told us the apples were made of gold this year, or the trees had won a battle with cancer.
The woman spoke. "You gonna want the hayride?" Hayride? There'd never been a hayride before. I don't know which shocked me more, the awkward attempt at commercialism or the woman's voice, sounding like a uneasy cross between barbed wire and hate.
There was neither hay nor much of a ride in the hayride. It started at the farmhouse an ended only about a hundred meters away in the apple orchard. As the driver pulled our hayless trailer down to the rows of apple trees, he yelled back to ask us what kind we were picking today. At this farm there are dozens of varieties of apples, jonagold, gala, empire, macintosh, and many more, each with their own section of the farm. "The red kind!" I yelled back, just to see the expression on his face. It didn't disappoint.
When the ride stopped less than a minute from when it began, the girls unanimously declared it the best hayride ever.
The apple picking went quickly. Preschoolers exercise no judgment when picking apples. If it is red and in reach, it gets picked. They might as well be choosing vice-presidents for all the care they take. I started off trying to stay on top of this, trying to sort the good from the bad as the apples were dropped into the basket, but I had only two hands and they had four, and I simply couldn't keep up. Besides, most of these apples were going to become applesauce anyway, so what did it matter if many of them were halfway there when they were picked. Kathryn did try to help, calling out repeatedly, "No, Honey! Not that one!" when a twin reached for a particularly mushy specimen, but because Kathryn neither tries nor cares enough to tell the twins apart, nobody knew to whom she was yelling. The helpfulness of her strategy was compromised from the get-go.
Halfway through, a light but surprisingly cold rain began to fall and by the time we had our apples bagged and paid for, we were all wet and chilled to the bone. We loaded the apples in the minivan, stripped the girls down to their underwear, wrapped them all in blankets and towels, and drove the hour back home, listening to Ben Lee's Catch My Disease thirty times in a row, because that's the way we like it, that's the way we like it.
At one point on the drive home, Sharon swiveled around in her seat and asked the naked masses, "Who had a good time picking apples today?" "ME!" three voices yelled in unison, and as Sharon turned back around, I caught a glimpse of her honest but twitchy smile, the only kind she can make anymore.