Looming high above our house in Great Neck, New York was the Ackerman house, up a steep, honeysuckle-covered rise to the north, and then climbing even higher across the Ackerman's vast, sloping lawn. Unlike our modernist one-story wooden ranch house, the Ackerman house was an expansive, traditional stone structure. We didn't socialize with the Ackermans, and in fact didn't know them very well at all, but every now and then, on a hot summer day, they would open their swimming pool to the neighboring kids.
Thus my sisters, friends and I were all swimming there one weekend, at some indeterminate point in my childhood. Near the pool was a spreading tree, covered with tempting, ripe apples. Without asking (there were lots of them), I picked one and ate it. A bit later, however, I noticed a sign somewhat buried among the branches, which read "POISON". This struck fear into my heart.
I approached Mr. Ackerman with great trepidation, and asked him about the sign, He said that the tree had been sprayed to kill insects that would otherwise damage all the apples. He gave me the name of the pesticide, and I think it was DDT (but I'm not certain - this was of course many years ago).
I was thrown into a state of panic. I walked the long distance across the lawn, slid down the honeysuckle-covered slope to our driveway, entered my own house, and gave the terrifying news to my parents. They phoned our doctor, a kindly pediatrician named Leonard Ehrlich. I figured that he would have me rushed off to the hospital, to be treated with some sort of antidote. Didn't every poison have an antidote? Instead, he informed us that the amount of residual pesticide on a single apple could not cause any harm, and nothing needed to be done. I would be fine.
Easy for him to say! He hadn't eaten the apple! In my childhood mind, the state of affairs was clear. I had eaten a poisoned apple, and everyone knew what that had done to Snow White! But the doctor having spoken, nobody would take my fears seriously. Despite my parents' urging, I couldn't bring myself to walk back up to the pool to join my sisters and the others. Instead, I went off to my room, alone, and lay down on my bed to die.
Despite the substantial distance, I could still hear the happy cries of the other neighborhood children way up at the Ackerman house, enjoying the rest of the day at the pool. How could they all be so callous and unconcerned? Why weren't they worrying too? I was also angry at my parents for being so easily persuaded by the doctor - everyone would be sorry after I was gone, for not having taken me seriously. As a child, I thought that adults often brushed off concerns and fears that were important to me.
I could hear my parents puttering around the house, and my mother starting to prepare dinner. Lying on my bed, feeling a general sense of dread, I waited for the first symptoms of the end. I wondered how long it takes for poison to take effect. Nobody checked in to see how I was doing.
After a while, ... nothing happened. I heard my sisters returning from the pool, and darkness fell. The aroma of dinner wafted into my room, revealing that whatever deadly poison I had ingested did not seem to have lessened my appetite.
So I got up from my bed and joined my family for dinner.
The story above is a rewrite of one of my original blog entries, called The poison apple. It was entry #0006, and was one of eight entries that were posted together when this blog was first made public on my 68th birthday, January 11, 2010. This new entry was rewritten to include more descriptive adjectives, and more complete descriptions of my emotional reaction to the incident, as I remember it.
What do you think? Better? Worse? The original has 413 words (unusually short for one of my blog entries), while this version is 596 words (a 44% increase). When trying to tailor a piece of writing to a particular use (column, Letter to the Editor, and so on), I've always found it pretty easy to scale a piece up or down in size by a factor of two.