An ordinary suburban Connecticut summer in the seventies is the stage for the miraculous world of Timmy. Twelve years old and full of boundless curiosity, Timmy lives an ever-expanding life of record collections (of which Elton John is king), neighborhood bullies (of whom Franky DiLorenzo rules), best friends, and the darker, more lasting secrets of family. Over the course of the summer, Timmy will kill a frog, lose his baseball-card collection, alienate a friend, and witness his parents' separation. An intruder will hide in his treehouse; his mother will threaten divorce; his father will move out and back in. Timmy's childhood will end and his adolescence begin.
One of the most remarkable child narrators to come along in recent years, Timmy is the achievement of a stunning new voice in American fiction. In the Cherry Tree is an addictively clever and appealing novel of our universal coming of age.
"Pope's dialogue is heartbreaking and real; his characters sympathetic in their gross imperfections." - Booklist
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In the Cherry Tree
By Dan Pope
PicadorCopyright © 2003 Dan Pope
All rights reserved.
APPLE HILL ROAD
Summer days began without a plan. You got up. You had a bowl of cereal. You went outside. A lawn mower hummed. Ducks passed overhead in perfect V formation like World War Two bombers. A dog barked, and another dog barked back. Somebody was hammering nails into a roof. Somebody was bouncing a basketball two streets away. You heard the sound, then the echo. A cat crept across the grass and disappeared beneath a hedge. It was hot. The sun was strong. The crickets made a seething noise. A sprinkler came on and made a quiet rain sound when the water hit the grass and then a louder rain sound when the water hit the street.
"Let's do something."
"I don't know."
"Crab apple fight?"
We thought it over. After a while someone got an idea, and we did something.
* * *
Our street before it was a street used to be an apple orchard. The apple trees were planted in neat rows that went up the hill as far as you could see. The Dad told us about the apple trees. He remembered them from when he was a boy. He used to come out to the country for picnics with his family in his father's car, which was called a Graham Paige, and they would get a drink of apple cider at the farmhouse and walk around the apple orchards.
That was a long time ago.
When they built our street the builders cut down most of the apple trees and sawed up the logs and dragged the branches away. The builders left some of the apple trees for looks. Every house had one in the front yard, giving off shade and dropping crab apples into the grass. Everyone kicked or swept the crab apples into the street, where they got smashed and worm-eaten and smelled like rot. The crab apples were not good to eat. They were sour. Mik Cosgrove ate them but no one else did. We threw the crab apples at cars and squirrels, at telephone poles and each other. Once I nailed Albert in the middle of his forehead with a rotten crab apple, which exploded. The Dad saw it from the kitchen window and came outside and said, "That's a good way to take someone's eye out."
All the houses on our street looked the same except for the farmhouse. The houses were white, split-level houses with flat roofs. Some of the front doors were painted different colors. On every stoop was a gray milk box. Each house had a sign above the front door that said something like "Welcome," or "Home Sweet Home," or "Bless This House." The sign above our door said "35."
We lived at number thirty-five. Stev lived directly across the street from us. Tiger lived next to Stev. Mik Cosgrove lived next to Tiger. Franky DiLorenzo lived across the street from Mik Cosgrove. The Estabrooks lived next to us. At night Diana Estabrook kissed boys on her porch swing while Albert and I watched from our bedroom window. All the boys liked to kiss Diana Estabrook.
The farmhouse was located at the bottom of the street. The farmhouse was built in 1805, according to the little sign on the front door. A brook ran through the backyard of the farmhouse. There was a well in the yard with a pump and a bucket which no one used anymore. The well was for looks. It had no water. The sign on the farmhouse mailbox said "Geo. W. Sage," but nobody by that name lived in the farmhouse. An old lady lived there, but the lights were always off. The old lady had never been seen. She lived her whole life in the farmhouse and never came out. She was like a rare butterfly. If you could just catch a glimpse of her with your binoculars, your life would be special. But it never happened, not once.CHAPTER 2
THE GROUNDHOG ARRIVES
That summer, a groundhog invaded our backyard. The groundhog arrived in the middle of June, after school had ended. The groundhog made a tunnel in the backyard that went around and around, making ridges in the grass like a pencil doodle. The tunnel ended underneath the back porch.
The Mom said, "I'll call the humane society. They'll know what to do."
The Dad said, "Don't bother. I'll take care of it. Come on, Timmy."
The Mom said, "What are you going to do?"
He got into the Mark IV, drove very slowly onto the lawn and steered around to the backyard, making tread marks in the grass. He stopped next to the back porch and got out. The car looked strange sitting on the lawn.
The Mom came out onto the back porch. She said, "What in God's name are you doing?"
"Watch and learn," said The Dad.
He taped the black garden hose with duct tape to the exhaust pipe, then stuck the other end of the hose down the groundhog hole and filled in the hole with dirt. Then he got back into the car and gunned the motor. Approximately five seconds later smoke started pouring out of three separate holes in the backyard.
The Dad said to me, "You see him?"
"Maybe we got him."
"Maybe. Or maybe he's got some holes that we don't know about. Maybe there's more than one groundhog. Maybe there's a bunch of them."
"What's a bunch of groundhogs called?"
"I don't know. A family?"
After a couple of minutes of gunning the motor, the backyard smelled like car exhaust.
The Mom said, "Stop that this instant. What are the neighbors going to think? I've never been so embarrassed in my entire life." She went inside and slammed the door.
The Dad said, "Okay. That's enough."
He unwrapped the hose, and we drove around the side of the house and parked in the garage.
* * *
The Dad looked like Rock Hudson with a gob of Brylcreem in his hair, which was black and thick and low on his forehead. The Mark IV was his pride and joy. He used to own a Mark III, but he traded it in for the Mark IV the day the new model came out. The Mark IV was dark blue and had a V-8 engine with maximum horsepower. The Dad washed and simonized the Mark IV regularly, rubbing and buffing it with a terry cloth. He had a special compound to take out scratches. As soon as he was done washing and waxing he immediately put the car in the garage and closed the overhead door. The Dad acted like a big shot when operating the Mark IV. He'd wheel into a restaurant parking lot, push down the tinted windows and tell the car jockey, "Park it in a safe spot, kid. I'll make it worth your while." Or he'd tell the package store clerk, "Get me a case of your best champagne. I don't care what it costs. Put it in the trunk of my car. The Mark IV." The Dad disliked foreign cars. He often told Stev's Dad, "Do yourself a favor. Get rid of that German car before it burns a hole in your pocket. Get yourself a Continental."
Sometimes The Dad let Albert drive the Mark IV around the driveway. Albert would recline the seat as far as it would go, so that he was practically lying down. He'd drive to the end of the driveway and back, switching the gearshift lever from D for Drive to R for Reverse. Sometimes he backed into Stev's driveway or went all the way around the block, but generally he stayed in our driveway, going back and forth. I would sit in the passenger seat, adjusting the dials on the radio. I did not drive because my feet did not touch the pedals, even with the seat pushed all the way forward.
* * *
Tiger's Brother was standing at the end of our driveway. He said, "What's going on?"
The Dad said, "Got a groundhog here."
I said, "We're smoking him out."
Tiger's Brother said, "You think that'll work?"
The Dad said, "Should."
Tiger's Brother said, "Bob. I got one for you. Listen to this."
Tiger's Brother stood very close to The Dad. Tiger's Brother always stood close to you when he talked, sometimes within inches of your face, so that you could smell his cabbage breath. He talked in a tone of voice like someone telling you a secret. He said to The Dad in his secretive voice: "Three guys go into a bar. A Jew. A guinea. And a Polack."
I couldn't hear the rest of the joke.
The Dad said, "Heh."
Tiger's Brother said, "Did you like that one?"
The Dad said, "Heh heh."
We went inside. The Mom looked up from the kitchen sink, where she was cleaning dishes. She said, "What did he want?"
The Dad said, "Who?"
"You know very well who."
"He told me a joke. I've never known anyone who knows so many jokes. He must write them down."
"Did he see you driving on the lawn?"
I said, "Yes, he did."
The Dad said to me, "Don't be a squeal."
"Don't yell at him for telling the truth. He's not a liar like his father."
"You call me a liar in front of the kids?"
"You know what that person is like. He'll tell his mother. She'll tell everyone in town."
"Tell them what? What is there to tell, for Christsake? That we got a groundhog?"
"Do you think it's normal driving on the lawn in the middle of the day with everyone watching? Is that what you call normal behavior?"
"Who the hell cares what they think."
"I wanted to call the humane society, but no, you had to do it your way. That's what I get for marrying a Front Street wop."
"Don't start that wop business."
"I'll start any business I like."
"Call the boys wops while you're calling names."
"These boys are Scottish through and through."
"They're half Italian. That makes 'em half wops. Isn't that right, Timmy?"
I said, "I'm a wop. Wop wop wop."
The Mom said, "Don't say that. You're no such thing. You take after me. Anyone can see that."
The Dad said, "Sure, he does. He's a perfect little Scotsman with his black hair and brown eyes."
"Have you been drinking? Is that why you drove the car on the lawn?"
Albert walked into the kitchen and said, "Could you shut up, please?"
The Dad said, "Don't tell your mother to shut up."
Albert said, "Why not?"
The Dad said, "Because I say so, that's why."
The Mom said, "Leave him alone."
I said, "I have hazel eyes. Not brown."
The Dad said, "You hear that? Hazel eyes. Goddamn right you do, just like me. What color are your mother's eyes?"
I said, "I don't know."
The Dad said, "She's got gray eyes like an owl and thin lips. Never get involved with a thin-lipped woman. You boys remember that when you get older."
I said, "Why?"
The Dad said, "Nothing as cold as a thin-lipped woman."
The Mom said, "I wish you would die. I really do."
The Dad said, "Keep wishing."
The next day there were new groundhog tracks in the backyard.CHAPTER 3
Stev was my best friend. He and I grew up together. There were family pictures of Stev and Albert and me in each other's playpens, wearing diapers. Stev was always smiling, sitting next to us. His real name was Steve but we called him Stev because we had a rule against having an e at the end of your first name. E's were not allowed. Therefore we called Steve Stev and Mike Cosgrove Mik Cosgrove. Stev was fourteen, two years older than me and one year older than Albert. He was going into the tenth grade in the fall. He went to a different school. He and I were the same height even though Stev was older. I was fast but Stev was faster. He could run faster than anyone we knew.
Stev and I liked the same things. We liked badminton, which we played in his backyard in games to 500. We liked eating cherries off the tree. We liked asking each other TV questions. I would ask, "Where does Joe Friday live?" and Stev would answer, "At home with his mother," and I would say, "Correct." We liked keeping lists of our favorite movies and records and TV shows. We liked listening to WDRC's "Top 30 Songs of the Week Based on Sales and Requests in Big D Country." We liked Chicago and Todd Rundgren and Harry Chapin and last but definitely not least Elton John, whose real name was Reg Dwight. Stev and I had every Elton John album ever made. If Elton John came on TV, I would immediately telephone Stev and tell him: "Turn on the Wolfman. Quick. Elton's on." Sometimes the phone was busy when I called Stev because he was trying to call me and tell me the same thing.
* * *
The cherry tree was located on the high side of our front lawn. Some of the branches hung over the driveway approximately twenty feet in the air. That did not bother Stev. Stev was fearless. He climbed to the highest branch, which bent slightly when he sat on it. A crow landed on a branch next to Stev and squawked. A crow was a despicable creature that liked cherries. Stev spat three cherry pits at the crow and it looked at him and pecked a cherry and flew away. We counted the cherries as we ate them. The final tally was not available until approximately two hours later. The results were as follows: Stev ate 308 cherries. I ate 251. Taken together, it was the single greatest day of cherry eating in history.
Tiger walked up the driveway while we were picking cherries. Stev and I sat silently watching him. He had no clue that we were on the branches above his head. Stev spat a cherry pit at Tiger. The cherry pit landed on the driveway and made a sound. Tiger stopped and looked behind and saw nothing and scratched his head. He went up the steps to the front door and knocked the knocker and asked The Mom, "Is Timmy home?"
The Mom said, "They're in the tree, Anthony."
Stev and I yelled, "Hi, I'm Tony the Tiger and I've got a purple splotch on my neck. Hi, I'm Tony the Tiger and I'm a spaz. Hi, I'm Tony the Tiger and I'm number two on the all-time-spaz list behind Mik Cosgrove."
The Mom said, "Don't eat too many cherries boys or you'll get sick."
Tiger said, "Can I have some?" He stepped on the precious lower branch and tried to climb the sacred route.
Stev told him, "You're not allowed until you pass the test."
We climbed down and went into the backyard. The test took place underneath the back porch.
Stev said, "Pull down your pants."
Tiger got on the ground and pulled down his shorts. "Don't give me a wedgie," he said.
Stev got behind Tiger and sat on his legs and stuck the end of the little green garden hose in his butt. He dropped three pebbles one by one into the hose. The pebbles rattled and clanked. He poured a handful of dirt into the hose. The dirt sifted and slid.
Tiger yelled, "Hey, cut it out, Steve. That hurts."
Stev said, "Demerit."
"Confirmed," said I.
Tiger got up and went into the corner and bent over and made a face.
Stev said, "The greatest line from Night Gallery is 'You got my Charlie flat out on a slab.'"
I said, "'As ye rip, ye shall be ripped.'"
Stev said, "Hawaii Five-O."
"Correct," said I.
Tiger said, "Why did I get a demerit?"
Stev told Tiger, "You said Steve. Steve is wrong. The name is Stev. No one calls me Steve."
Tiger said, "Why not?"
Stev said, "Rule number one. Never have an e at the end of your name."
Tiger said, "Can I go up the tree now?"
Stev told him, "You got a demerit. A demerit means you have to pass test number two."
"What's test number two?"
"Do you know what the best song is?"
"The best song is 'The Night Chicago Died.'"
"Do you know what the best movie is?"
"The best movie is Killdozer."
Stev picked up the bicycle pump that we kept underneath the back porch and showed it to Tiger. "Do you know what this is?"
Tiger said, "Bicycle pump."
Stev said, "Wrong. This is the most unbelievable farting machine ever created."
I said, "You won't believe it."
Stev said, "This is the best."
I said, "It's unbelievable."
Stev said, "Bend over."
Tiger pulled down his pants and bent over. Stev took the end of the bicycle pump and stuck it in his butt.
"Stay still," I said.
I started pumping. I pumped and Tiger started giggling and I pumped and he grabbed his stomach and giggled and I pumped and Tiger said, "That's enough," and I pumped until it got hard to push down the lever and Tiger reached around and pulled out the end of the bicycle pump and cut the single greatest fart in the history of farting. He farted one long fart that didn't change in pitch or volume but just kept going and going and Tiger held his stomach, which was puffed up, and said, "Make it go down." Stev and I hit the dirt. We rolled in the dirt and laughed the soundless laugh.
* * *
Stev and I wrote everything down. Our records were meticulous. If someone dropped a neutron bomb on Apple Hill Road and killed all the people but left the houses intact, the knowledge would survive. Future generations would not be mystified by our existence. Everything you needed to know was contained in seven bright blue spiral-bound notebooks, which were located in my room in the bottom drawer of my desk.
Stev said, "Quiz me."
I said, "What subject?"
I turned to the page of the notebook entitled "The Big Valley" and asked Stev the following questions:
"What is the name of the Barkleys' youngest son who is always away at college? Which of the Barkleys is a counselor-at-law? What is the name of Victoria Barkley's husband, who is now deceased? Which Barkley don't take nothing from nobody? What is the nearest town to the Barkley Ranch?"
Stev answered all the questions correctly except for the first, which was Eugene.
After I told him, Stev said, "I knew that. I just couldn't remember it."
I said, "Tough luck." I waited for a moment then said in my cowboy voice, "You Barkleys think you're so high and mighty."
Excerpted from In the Cherry Tree by Dan Pope. Copyright © 2003 Dan Pope. Excerpted by permission of Picador.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. Apple Hill Road,
2. The Groundhog Arrives,
4. Orange Peels,
5. The Ammo Box,
7. Madam I'm Adam,
8. The Girl Next Door,
9. Fanny Tranny,
11. Time Bomb,
12. Rainy Day Activities,
13. Hooga Chaka,
14. The Guest Room,
15. Ten Cherry Busters,
17. Kiss Me Like the Movies,
19. Five Mississippi,
20. Midnight Snack,
21. Good Humor Man,
22. Cat's Away,
24. Three Fingers,
26. Franks and Beans,
27. Humbug on the Road,
29. The Night Chicago Died,
30. Sinking Ship,
31. A Lovely Day,
32. To the Moon,
33. Screen Stars,
34. Here's to you, Jellybean,
35. Getting Out,
36. Dog Heaven,
38. Caught in the Rain,
39. Light on his Feet,
42. Hot Air,
44. Silent Treatment,
45. Fire and Water,
46. Evel Knievel,
47. Shopping Spree,
48. The Groundhog Departs,
Reading Group Guide
1. At the start of In The Cherry Tree, we learn that the street where Timmy lives is part of a suburban track of land which used to be a terraced apple orchard. Some of the houses still have apple tries, which drop crab apples onto the lawns. What do you think the apples trees, and for that matter, the cherry tree symbolizes, if anything? Why is Tiger not allowed to climb the tree? Why is Timmy upset when the raccoon goes up onto the highest branch? And why is he upset, later in the summer, when a murder of crows attacks the tree, rendering its branches bare?
2. Timmy enjoys making lists of his favorite movies, songs, and television shows. What is the significance of these cultural references, other than as signifiers of the time and place? Why are they important to Timmy? Why should they be important to us?
3. The Mom. The Dad. The Myra. The Device. The Station Wagon. The Green Machine.
Etc. Why does Timmy refer to these people and things in such a manner? What does it say about his vision of the world? Additionally, how is the author's choice to withhold
Timmy's last name related to his protagonist's vision of that world?
4. How do Timmy and Albert communicate? What's significant about the language that they use with each other?
5. Does Timmy behave, act, and think like a 12-year-old boy?
6. The Mom and The Dad don't get along very well. What sort of things do they fight about? In what ways are they different? Which of them do you feel yourself siding with during their battles? Does The Mom worry too much or does The Dad not worry enough?
7. Throughout the course of the summer, the neighboring Cosgrove family falls apart. Does the Cosgrove's crack-up in some ways mirror the events occurring in Timmy's house? In which ways are the families different? How does the Cosgrove's crack-up influence
Timmy's father, if at all?
8. If In the Cherry Tree is a novel about the Seventies, what from this period does not appear? Why do you think the author has chosen to omit such details?
9. Timmy never, or rarely, tells us how he feels about the things he witnesses. Even so, does he changedoes he matureduring the course of the summer? If so, which events spark a change in him? How do we know he's changed, since he doesn't really tell us his feelings?
10. At the end of the novel, Timmy seems to be looking out over a chasm as wide as the
Snake River Canyon. He tells us, finally, that "anything was possible." What comes next for him, do you think? Will he retain the same sense of optimism he feels at the end of