The little white house had been there longer than anyone could remember. The cornerstone said 1781, but nobody thought that was possible. Sudbury wasn’t a town that far back. The archives in the local library said the first deed had been issued in 1824 to Saul Abrams, a fur trader, but it was the only house for miles then. It was four years later before the town had its first boom and then there were a dozen homes scattered about like corn thrown to chickens. Close enough to help if there’s a need, but far enough away that you didn’t have to worry about your neighbor seeing your business. Not like anybody was up to anything, mind you, but it was still nice to have the breathing room.
Nell was currently the youngest resident of the little white house, but she certainly wasn’t going to be the last. Her mom was due to give birth within a week to her latest sibling. Meanwhile, grandma Rose and uncle Pat lived upstairs in the north-east facing room. They preferred the early morning light to paint by. They said it meant they got a head start on the day before the rest of the family got up.
The little white house had resisted all sorts of change over the years. It had plumbing but no electricity. The family had never seen a need for it, preferring natural light over artificial. Plus the money they saved was nothing to sneeze at. Of course, money wasn’t a problem for Nell’s family. Up to four generations at a time lived there, sharing their skills and resources along with their joys and sorrows. It was so much cheaper to pay one mortgage than four (or more). The money saved was worth the minor annoyance of the cramped quarters. For starters, it meant that they didn’t all have to work full-time, and especially not at jobs that took more than they gave.
The Abrams family realized early on that they would have to be careful about how many children they had if they were going to share a house. It wouldn’t do to be too crowded. Plus, more mouths meant more food, and food wasn’t cheap. They’ve had a lot of land to work with years back, but now that the city had grown up around the house they had to buy food just like everyone else.
Of course, there was always the apple tree out front. It had been the reason Saul had bought the property in the first place. The apples had just ripened on it once Saul came over the hill, looking for a campsite for the evening after a long day of marmot trapping. That tree’s beauty stopped him in his tracks and he set up his canvas tent smack dab under it to spend the evening with it as his company. The next morning he knew he’d finally found a place he could call home. He dreamed about that tree the whole night long.
Saul’s family put great stock in dreams, being descended from Jacob, who God renamed Israel. Jacob knew that where he slept was a holy place and so set up an altar to God once he awoke. Saul knew the same was true here, but he knew he was to establish a house rather than a temple.
There wasn’t much difference, really, to his mind.
The city had grown up around the house, getting closer and closer. The yard had shrunk down to a little patio in front with the tree. Tall buildings bracketed the little white house on the sides but not at the front or back. Somehow, there was still an alleyway to one side, and Nell would often play there when she wanted to be alone.
The alley was gated, and only her family had a key, but it didn’t matter. Nobody would even think of walking through that gate. Most didn’t even notice it. It was kind of like one of those Japanese gates that weren’t really gates, marking out a difference between “there” and “here”. “Here” was the difference between storm and calm, between noise and harmony. Most people walked on by because this little island wasn’t what they were looking for, even though it was what most of them needed. Most people were looking for peace in the wrong places – more activity, more possessions, a different job / spouse / church / hobby. They figured if they weren’t happy it was because of something outside of them. Change that and they’d change how they felt, they thought. Yet they made the changes outside and they still felt empty inside.
The little white house had no ornamentation to speak of but it was always clean and tidy. It stuck out only in that it didn’t stick out at all, taking up just enough space but no more.
The residents kept a low profile, always doing things the same way. They always put the trash out on Wednesday mornings, always went to get the groceries on Thursday. On Friday they prepared for a day of rest by cooking double portions of food to make Saturday easy. On Sunday they might travel or work on school projects. They were always learning, whether they were enrolled in an institution or not. All of the Abrams kids went to public school and then to college, yet they also were expected to follow their own inspirations and learn as much as they could about whatever they wanted. The Sahara desert, bowling, tea, it made no difference. Anything was fair game to do a research project on, but each person had to do something.
Right now, for Nell, that something was sitting on the front steps, sketching the apple tree. Year after year it produced crisp red apples that the family lovingly harvested and ate fresh, baked into pies, made into sauce and preserves. Every single fruit was carefully harvested and used or processed immediately. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” should have been engraved as the Abrams family motto because they sure took it seriously. Even if they were traveling they were sure to take enough applesauce or apple butter along with them so each person could have their daily allotment. Every day they ate from the fruit of that tree just like it was medicine, just like it was prescribed by the family doctor.
In a way, it was. All those many years ago, God told Saul in that dream to eat the fruit of that tree every day – him and his descendants, and they would never get sick. He took God at his word and had an apple for breakfast first thing when he woke up. Within moments the usual aches and pains he’d had for the past three years of making his living out of the wilderness were gone, like he never had them.
The family never told a soul their secret, out of concern that someone would try to steal the tree or chop it down out of spite. Some folks would rather destroy something beautiful than share.
Of course, they had to tell anyone who married into the family, but marrying into that family was harder than getting a job at the real White House.
Background checks were just the beginning. Then there was a complete physical. Financial records were obtained. Even visits to a psychiatrist were required. It was like applying for full term life insurance, a second mortgage, and a Secret Service job all at once.
In the end, if you were in, you were made truly part of the family by a dip in the local river. And, no matter what, you had to change your last name to Abrams. After that you were the same as anyone else who lived in the little white house, and you too got your daily serving of apple.
Getting a serving a day meant you didn’t get sick, but it didn’t mean you wouldn’t die. Accidents and old age could kill an Abrams the same as anyone else. They tended to heal faster from accidents, and age slower, but death still visited that house on occasion. Even then it wasn’t a sadness, because they’d always lived long and well there.
(The image is from the book “Trainstop” by Barbara Lehman. It is a wordless picture-book for children. My story was inspired by this image and not by her story that she told through her other pictures.)