We sat eating our lunch in the cafeteria in the spring of 1975. Our Branson Fifth grade class of Mrs. Mayberry enjoyed pizza day (No I can’t remember this exact meal but pizza day was always my favorite!). I sat across from Jeff Chaney. In the picture Jeff is standing in the back with other classmates at our spring luau day. Jeff picked up an apple and showed us how his grandpa taught him how to twist the apple and break it in half. Jeff, bigger and stronger than I, firmly twisted the apple in both hands until we around him heard a loud pop, and sure enough the apple broke in two.
Several of us picked up our own apples, trying to twist it in half. As I strained, I suddenly felt a pop in my neck. I reached up and grabbed my neck and dropped the apple on my plate. I remember feeling suddenly dizzy and nauseous.
“I think I need to tell Mrs. Mayberry I’m not feeling well,” I said to my friends as I got up from my table to make my way to the teacher’s table. Friends later reported what happened next. I stumbled towards the front of the cafeteria where a custodian stopped me. They said it looked like I reached for a piece of bread from the bread tray and fell backwards. Fortunately, the custodian caught me and lay me on the floor, unconscious.
The next thing I remember was staring into the faces of Mr. Fritz, principal, one of the cooks, and Mrs. Mayberry. Concern was etched on their faces. I also saw out of the corner of my eyes kids all standing up trying to see what was going on. Mrs. Mayberry helped me up and led me to Mrs. Corbin’s office, our school nurse. Mrs. Corbin was elderly, kind and gentle. She looked me over, gave me some water to drink, and had me stay with her until I felt better.
I remember next being let out to return to class, but it was recess. As I stepped out on the playground, I was mobbed by classmates wanting to know what happened to me. I felt like a celebrity! Mrs. Mayberry yelled for the students to get back and leave me alone. She made me sit on the steps from the playground that led up to sixth street, close to the starting line of our 600 yard dash for PE.
I remember that story as I talked with Henry Chaney, director of Greenlawn Funeral Home here in Branson. I had just found out Henry is Jeff’s Dad. Henry did a very kind thing for my Dad at his funeral about a year ago. He ordered tomato plants to be given to all who attended. My Dad was called by friends the tomato man, as he raised and sold tomatoes for years at local farmer’s markets, grocery stores, and individuals who would drive out to our farm. It was fun talking with Henry about growing up and going to school with his son, Jeff, and I relayed the apple story. Henry laughed and told me about Jeff's grandfather teaching him this trick.
My neck hurt for about a week after that accident, and was one of the reasons, along with my elder brother’s injured knee, that I could never play football in Junior High or High School. The sore neck reminded me of the incident and my brief moment of fame in our school. Girls were concerned about me. Guys teased me. It was glorious!
Even today I at times try to twist apples. I focus on impressing others and accomplishing to impress, rather than living each day in grateful joy. I beat myself up often about failing as a husband, father, leader in Young Life, friend, brother, and neighbor. My soul becomes sore from my efforts.
I was reminded yesterday that when God sees me, He sees a child He deeply loves. I am accepted just as I am, while God is committed to growing me and maturing me, in His time. Instead of twisting the apple of life, he encourages me to taste it and see that He is good.
Thanks for the lesson, Jeff!